(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz could succeed Natan Sharansky as chairman of the Jewish Agency and coalition chairman David Bitan could replace him in the cabinet, according to a deal Likud officials confirmed is in the works on Tuesday.
Sharansky extended his tenure at the agency for an additional year to June 2018, due to controversies over the Western Wall and conversion that caused tensions between the government and international Jewish leaders. But he has ruled out keeping the post any more after that after nine years on the job.
The next agency chairman will be appointed by Netanyahu, but must receive approval from Diaspora leaders. Steinitz
would be welcomed by both, because he has been close to Netanyahu for 20 years and is viewed by Diaspora Jewish leaders as moderate and pragmatic.
Steinitz was the only Likud minister to vote against reneging on the Western Wall deal. Since then, pressure has increased on him to accept the Agency post, and Likud sources confirmed a report in Yediot Aharonot
that while Steinitz ruled it out receiving the position in the past, he is now more inclined to accept it.
But sources close to Steinitz told The Jerusalem Post
he was surprised by the report during a family vacation, and that it was “a rumor that has been talked about for a month.”
The head of the Reform Movement in Israel, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, said that Steinitz was a fitting candidate for the post.
“We are happy he voted against canceling the Kotel deal,” Kariv said. “Only when he would be an official candidate would we speak to him about the importance of strengthening all religious streams in Israel and around the world.”
Others thought in the past to be candidates for the post have included Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs head Dore Gold, former ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor, Keren Hayesod chairman Eliezer Sandberg and Ma’aleh Adumim mayor Benny Kashriel, who was officially chosen as the World Likud’s candidate for the job.
One factor that could complicate the issue is if criminal investigations force Netanyahu to leave office before the vote for the Agency chairmanship is set to take place in February. If Netanyahu had to choose anyone to serve as interim prime minister until an election, Steinitz could be a likely choice, because of his loyalty to the prime minister.
Bitan has become increasingly close to the prime minister since becoming chairman of the coalition. He organized his successful August 9 rally and is one of the main organizers of Wednesday night’s pre-Rosh Hashana toast by Netanyahu at Airport City.