Michael Oren interviewed for Agency chairmanship

"Chairing the Jewish Agency would be the culmination and apogee of my life of service," Oren told The Jerusalem Post.

MICHAEL OREN, in his role as ambassador to the US, speaks at a Holocaust event in Washington’s Capitol Rotunda in 2012 (photo credit: BENJAMIN MYERS/REUTERS)
MICHAEL OREN, in his role as ambassador to the US, speaks at a Holocaust event in Washington’s Capitol Rotunda in 2012
(photo credit: BENJAMIN MYERS/REUTERS)

The ten-member Jewish Agency For Israel chairmanship selection committee interviewed former deputy minister, MK and ambassador to Washington Michael Oren for the prestigious post on Thursday.

Oren is one of three candidates who have already been interviewed by the committee. Six more candidates will be interviewed ahead of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meetings on October 24-26 in which the successor to President Isaac Herzog as agency chairman is set to be announced.

“I’ve dedicated my entire life to the strengthening, enrichment, defense and unity of the Jewish people,” Oren told The Jerusalem Post after the job interview. “Chairing the Jewish Agency would be the culmination and apogee of my life of service.”

Michael Oren at Zedekiah’s Cave (credit: GPO)Michael Oren at Zedekiah’s Cave (credit: GPO)

Oren Wwas born and raised in the US. He made aliyah through the Jewish Agency and resided in an agency absorption center for a year. He became a lone soldier in the IDF, and when he was in an MK, created the Lone Soldier Caucus.

As ambassador to the US, he reached out to all streams of Judaism and insisted on speaking at Reform, Conservative and Orthodox synagogues. 

Oren worked closely with then-agency chairman Natan Sharansky to secure the Western Wall Agreement that was supposed to result in an egalitarian prayer site at the Kotel.

In the Knesset, he was a member of the Aliyah, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee and co-sponsored the bill initiating Aliyah Day. He has been Israel’s representative on the Birthright/Taglit steering committee and a board member of the agency’s Shlichim Institute.

“The Jewish people are on the brink of what could be a catastrophe of historic dimensions,” Oren said. “We stand to lose a large segment of people to assimilation and alienation from Israel and Jewish identity. Antisemitism is on an unbridled rise. There is only one institution that has the experience, the global outreach, the resources and the vision capable of bringing the Jewish people back from this brink.”

Oren said he had an advantage in being politically unaffiliated. The Kulanu Party he belonged to no longer exists. He said he has the ability to cross political divides in Israel and the Jewish world and work with any Israeli government.

Oren praised his fellow candidates for the post.

“I am honored to be in such an impressive field,” he said. “It says a lot about how far the Agency has come since it was thought of as a sinecure for failed politicians.”

The appointments of Sharansky and Herzog as agency chairmen greatly elevated the position, Oren said, adding that he hopes to continue that.

“It would be tragic if now, at this most critical time for the Jewish people, the position were again to be given to politicians who have limited familiarity with the Jewish world,” he said.

Since leaving politics, Oren has published books, consulted for hi-tech companies advancing Israeli technology abroad and ran Israel 2048, an organization that works with young Israelis to consider what they want Israel to look like on its 100th birthday. As agency chairman, he said he would reach out to young people in the Diaspora.

“The chairman must lead the agency in reaching out to young Jews where they are – not in synagogues, but online – with a message of inclusiveness, of both unity and respect for diversity and a reenergized Israel education designed to preserve and strengthen Jewish identity and Israel-Diaspora relations,” Oren said.