Natan Sharansky should be granted a second term, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the organization’s board of governors in Jerusalem on Monday morning.
Addressing Sharansky, Netanyahu said that he had “come to request that the board of governors extend your term by another four years.”
The former Soviet dissident and Israeli parliamentarian was a “symbol of Jewish unity and the triumph of the Jewish people over adversity,” the prime minister stated.
“You have always worked tirelessly to secure the Jewish future. When my generation earned their scars on the battlefield, you earned yours in Soviet dungeons,” he continued.
“You’ve earned the respect not only of the Jewish people in Israel, but of non-Jews worldwide, and in all the years I’ve known you, you’ve been much more than a symbol; you’ve also worked tirelessly to promote Jewish unity and to secure the Jewish future. I think this is the source of the bond between us; it was instantaneous exactly on this point. It took us about five minutes to sniff each other and figure that out.”
Addressing the members of the board of governors, Netanyahu described Sharansky as a “a giant of the Jewish people” and “a battle-scarred veteran of the campaign to secure the Jewish future.”
“It is a great partnership that exists between the government and the Jewish Agency. I look forward to working together with you to help secure the Jewish people with Natan at the helm,” Netanyahu told the board of governors.
Sharansky’s four-year term as chairman expires at the end of June, when new elections must be held, according to the Jewish Agency.
“At this February board of governors [meeting], a timetable will be decided for the elections process,” said Jewish Agency spokesman Benjamin Rutland.
“A decision will be made by June, when Natan Sharansky’s term expires.”
At this stage, no other candidates have presented their candidacy, according to one agency insider.
A nominating committee composed of representatives of the Jewish Federations of North America, World Zionist Organization and Keren Hayesod, in consultation with the Prime Minister’s Office, will make its recommendation for chairman to the board of governors during its upcoming meeting in Kiev in June.
Previously, the full Jewish Agency assembly was required to ratify the nominating committee’s decision, but that is no longer the case.
Traditionally, said Dan Brown of the website eJewish Philanthropy, the prime minister was essentially able to hand-pick the Jewish Agency chair.
“For all intents and purposes, whoever the prime minister wanted, [even though] they had to be nominated and voted upon, always got the job,” Brown told The Jerusalem Post.
Sharansky was elected by a unanimous vote of the assembly in 2009 and last time, as well, Brown said, “Netanyahu made it very clear he wanted Sharansky to have that position.”
Professor emeritus Gabriel Sheffer of the Hebrew University concurred with Brown’s assessment. An expert on Israel-Diaspora relations, Sheffer told the Post that “all prime ministers have an advantage in selecting the head of the Jewish Agency so I think Binyamin Netanyahu will get the appointment of Sharansky whenever he wants to have it.”
A Jewish Agency chairman securing a second term is not a rare occurrence, he noted.
Among Sharansky’s achievements, Rutland noted, were the “completion of the aliya from Ethiopia,” a “major increase in the number of shlichim to campuses” and a “major restructuring of the Jewish Agency to enhance efficiency and meet current requirements.”
Sharansky was also responsible for the establishment of Jewish Agency International Development, a fund-raising body operating in North America aimed at making up the shortfall in revenue caused by a reduction in funds allocated to the Jewish Agency by the Jewish Federations of North America.
Until recently, the Jewish Agency’s budget came from the JFNA, Keren Hayesod and the United Jewish Appeal.
However, in 2011, the JFNA decided to terminate the arrangement in which its funds allocated for overseas projects were split between the Jewish Agency and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
Asked about his assessment of Sharansky’s time at the helm, Sheffer stated that “it’s not a question that can be answered quite easily.”
“The Jewish Agency has many problems. One of the problems is that it has no money. The money that the Jewish Agency used to get from abroad has declined tremendously, so this influences the ability of the Jewish Agency to perform their various tasks.”
Sharansky succeeded, Sheffer said, “in maintaining the contacts with the Jewish Diaspora to an extent [although] he has not changed the process in the Jewish Diaspora of reducing their support for Israel [and] their interest in Israel.” During remarks made after Netanyahu’s speech, board of governors chairman and Loews corporation president James Tisch, a Sharansky supporter, stated that “Israel could not survive without the Diaspora and likewise the Diaspora Jews could not long survive without Israel,” a sentiment expressed by Sharansky on several occasions.
Former Jewish Agency foreign press spokesman Michael Jankelowitz told the Post on Monday that he believes that “it’s now a mere formality that Sharansky gets four more years.”
“He’s a very popular chairman and has put in place the Jewish Agency’s new strategic plan very smoothly. The overseas donors are very satisfied with the job he is doing and also with the money he is raising for the federations when he travels to North America.
Also, James Tisch wants Sharansky to continue. Who can stand in the way of the Israeli PM and a Forbes 400 billionaire?”