In a dramatic meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive on Monday night, attempts were made to unseat World Zionist Organization chairman Yaakov Hagoel as interim Jewish Agency chairman and the head of its selection committee.
Members of the executive, led by UJA-Federation of New York chief executive officer Eric Goldstein, questioned whether Hagoel’s conflict of interest as both the interim chairman and the head of the selection committee hindered the process of selecting a new Agency chairman. Sources at the meeting said Goldstein, the leader of the most powerful Federation, delivered an impassioned address.
The Agency selection committee failed to choose a chairman by Sunday’s deadline after an eight-month race, despite there being seven candidates. The decision left the Agency with no permanent chairman, at a time when its staff is playing a major role in helping the Jews of Ukraine and facilitating the aliyah of thousands of them.
Influential Keren Hayesod official David Koschitzky, who was a member of the selection committee, suggested keeping Hagoel as interim head of the Agency, but removing him as head of the committee.
Hagoel told the JA Executive that he is working hard as interim head of the Agency in a volunteer capacity, with no additional income and barely seeing his family. He said that he was offended that they would even consider removing him when he is doing so much to help Ukrainian Jewry.
A vote to keep Hagoel as interim chairman passed unanimously.
Members of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, which has been meeting this week, spoke about possible new candidates for Agency head. One possibility is Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, who has been leading the government’s effort to help Ukrainian Jewry. He received praise on Monday from Labor leader Merav Michaeli.
“The Labor Party insisted on the Diaspora Affairs portfolio, and Minister Nachman Shai is leading the amazing work on behalf of the State of Israel for Jews in Ukraine,” Michaeli told her faction in the Knesset. “Shai was the first to invest millions in aid for everything that the Jews in Ukraine need, with the support of other bodies such as the Jewish Agency, for example. I stand with Minister Shai, and am proud of him and of the fact that the State of Israel is doing what it should: taking responsibility for the fate of Jews at this time of distress.”
Asked about the possibility of Shai shifting to the Agency, she said: “There is no need to free Nachman Shai. We know how qualified he is. But we aren’t the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency.”
Former MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh, who was a candidate to head the Agency, expressed concern about the unsuccessful selection process.
“At a time of growing urgency and importance, including raging war, antisemitism, immigration, and their implications for Isreal and Jews worldwide, there are few platforms that can potentially transcend differences of politics, geography, denomination and age,” she said. “I am saddened by the process and its results, as they are but a manifestation of the growing gap between Israel as a maturing nation-state, and its role, responsibility and relationship with global Jewry.
“At a time of local and global political instability, the fact this process is captive to small, temporary, political considerations and needs undermine the potential realization of the vision and values of a 92-year-old institution that was intended to unite, bridge and connect, enabling the creation of the State of Israel based on shared values and a shared project.”