Jewish Agency candidates frustrated as Lapid pushes to delay vote

Former agency candidate Elazar Stern quit the race after he realized he had no chance to win, due to the scandal over his boasting that he shredded anonymous complaints in the IDF. 

 Leader of the "Yesh Atid" political party Yair Lapid (R) seen with MK Elazar Stern at a press conference in Tel Aviv,  on January 18, 2015 (photo credit: Ben Kelmer/FLASH90)
Leader of the "Yesh Atid" political party Yair Lapid (R) seen with MK Elazar Stern at a press conference in Tel Aviv, on January 18, 2015
(photo credit: Ben Kelmer/FLASH90)

The Jewish Agency’s 10-member chairmanship selection committee will convene on Monday afternoon to determine whether to heed a call by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to postpone voting for the post by four months.

Bennett and Lapid asked for the delay because they failed to find a new candidate to replace Intelligence Services Minister Elazar Stern, who quit the race after a scandal over his boasting that he shredded anonymous complaints when he was a senior IDF officer.

The selection committee gave Lapid until 4 p.m. Sunday to present a candidate after rejecting his initial request for a significant delay to choose the next Agency chairman.

Sources close to Lapid denied reports that he pushed former foreign minister Tzipi Livni to put herself forward for the position.

The whittling down of the eight remaining candidates to four semifinalists, which was set for Monday, was postponed to allow the selection committee to consider the request by Bennett and Lapid. The selection committee had planned to name the winner of the contest by the end of the week, in time for next week’s meetings of the Agency’s board of governors, but they may decide to wait until just before the next board of governors meeting in February.

If the decision is postponed, the head of the selection committee, World Zionist Organization chairman Yaakov Hagoel, will remain as acting Agency chairman, a post he has held since Isaac Herzog was elected president in July. Candidates expressed frustration at the possibility of a delay after they had worked hard in months of campaigning.

 Yaakov Hagoel (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) Yaakov Hagoel (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

“If someone really wanted this job and had a sense of mission, they would have applied by now,” one of the candidates said. “Why wait to field someone more political or someone who didn’t think it was important to begin with.”

Another candidate said there appeared to be a “confluence of interests” between Bennett, Lapid and Hagoel in delaying the vote. Hagoel’s associates said that suggestion was ridiculous, noting that he did not ask to be acting chairman and that as a Likudnik, he is a political opponent of Bennett and Lapid.

Sources close to Lapid said the vote can wait a few months. They expressed doubt that any current candidate would not be vetoed by two selection committee members, which is enough for elimination from the race.

“I dont think they will choose anyone, but if they do, they do,” a source close to Lapid said.

One of the candidates suggested that not all candidates will choose to remain in the race if the vote is postponed.

Stern’s departure left eight candidates: ANU museum director Irina Nevzlin, Jerusalem deputy mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahum,  Bar-Ilan University law professor Yaffa Zilbershats and former MKs Michal Cotler-Wunsh, Danny Danon, Uzi Dayan, Michael Oren and Omer Yankelevich.

In addressing the cabinet on Sunday, Bennett referenced the contributions of immigrants to Israel in honor of Aliyah Day, which was marked last week. He said that as the son of immigrants, he is aware of how hard it is for them.

“Israel is the home of the Jewish people, and we intend to continue to bring home as many of our brothers and sisters as possible, as well as helping those who are already here,” Bennett said.

“This has been our failure. We know how to bring people here, but when they get here, we do not deal with them well enough.”