It didn't receive nearly as much attention as the filling of the vacancy in the Social Affairs Ministry, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appointed a minister of Diaspora affairs on Thursday: Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog, who will trade in his current job for two.
When the cabinet and the Knesset approve the appointment, Herzog's full title will be minister of social affairs and services, Diaspora affairs, society and the fight against anti-Semitism.
Herzog sought the additional portfolio because of his interest in the issues handled by the former Diaspora Affairs Ministry. Olmert's spokesman said Herzog was given the post due to his deep commitment to strengthening the connection between Israel and Diaspora Jewry and his understanding and activity in the field.
He will be Israel's third minister for Diaspora affairs, following Labor-Meimad MK Rabbi Michael Melchior and former MK Natan Sharansky.
The ministry in the past handled such key issues as the fight against anti-Semitism, the restitution of pre-Holocaust assets, the fight for Israel's image on American college campuses and relations between religious and secular Jews in Israel.
Melchior led the former ministry as a deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Office until the current government was sworn in last May.
Since then it has remained vacant and its responsibilities were gradually distributed among other ministries.
Praising his successor, Melchior revealed that he had told Olmert that Herzog was the ideal choice due to his experience with, knowledge of and care for the Jewish world. But he said that Diaspora affairs minister should be a full-time job.
"I am pleased that Herzog is the one who will be working on the issue and I am optimistic that he will do a good job," Melchior said. "I hope he will get full backing from the government because Israel and Diaspora Jewry are floating apart and if you don't change the tide, afterwards there will be nothing to work with."
Jewish Agency chairman Ze'ev Bielski praised Olmert for appointing a Diaspora affairs minister. He said Herzog was "the right man in the right place."
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