The Jewish Agency race finally begins - analysis

A chairperson for the Jewish Agency needs to be chosen out of a list of seven candidates.

The Jewish Agency headquarters in Jerusalem (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
The Jewish Agency headquarters in Jerusalem
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

If Major League Baseball’s lockout ends, pitchers and catchers will report to training camp in another 10 days to prepare for Opening Day on March 31.

The exhibition preseason in baseball is considered relatively long in US professional sports, but it’s nothing compared with politics in the Jewish world.

In the race for arguably the top job in the Jewish world – chairman of the Jewish Agency – the exhibition preseason lasted eight months, from June 2, when then-Agency chairman Isaac Herzog was elected president, until Wednesday.

A meeting of the Jewish Agency chairmanship selection committee ended just after midnight on Wednesday. In that meeting, the 10 members of the committee held two rounds of voting, and none of the seven candidates came close to obtaining the support of the nine members required to be chosen.

The secret ballot votes were deemed unofficial, because if the votes counted, whoever did not receive nine votes would be automatically disqualified. Receiving support from nine of 10 Jews is nearly impossible, but after one committee member fell ill with corona this week, there were those who said that getting nine of nine would be even harder, so it could be even more challenging.

 Israeli parliament member Elazar Stern attends a Finance committee meeting regarding compensation for the victims who suffered from the recent days fires, November 28, 2016 (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90) Israeli parliament member Elazar Stern attends a Finance committee meeting regarding compensation for the victims who suffered from the recent days fires, November 28, 2016 (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

The selection committee needed one meeting to push for their favored candidate, and only when that meeting ended did the real season finally begin. Political deals will be made, allegiances will shift, and compromises will be forced.

Why could this not happen until now? The culprit for most of the wasted time was Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who took months to name a successor to his first candidate, Intelligence Services Minister Elazar Stern, after Stern talked himself out of the running.

Lapid ended up proposing former MK Ruth Calderon, whose divisive views and past statements make her selection unlikely. When she joined the race, she had to catch up to the other candidates who had already been interviewed twice.

Calderon has strong support from Reform and secular members of the selection committee and strong opposition from right-wing and Orthodox members. There are other candidates who also have support through their political views, their connections and their gender.

The qualifications the Jewish Agency needs are to be an effective advocate for the Diaspora, an effective advocate in Israel for olim, fundraising experience, an ability to raise money from donors and the government, management, leadership and strong communications skills. They need to be able to engage the next generation and new communities and be a bridge-builder.

If professional considerations were to be seriously considered, a relatively unknown Belgian businessman named Roby Spiegel, who entered the race at the last minute, could be chosen, due to his impressive resume as a professional and lay leader in the Jewish world. But there has been no evidence yet that actual qualifications will be a factor.

All the candidates except the two who received the most votes on Tuesday night – Calderon and former UN ambassador Danny Danon – have presented themselves as a “compromise candidate, who is not anyone’s first choice but could be everyone’s second pick.” They have until the crucial next meeting to prove they are the right compromise candidate.

The worst nightmare for all the candidates is that they will all be deemed unworthy, and the entire process will start afresh.

Why will that not happen? Because the members of the selection committee are respected, veteran leaders in the Jewish world who have their pride, integrity and self-respect to consider. They know that the process has gone on far too long, and they want the farce to end.

It is now up to them to find the right hitter who can come to the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors meeting on February 27 and knock the ball out of the park.