Herzog versus Steinitz: Contest over new Jewish Agency head heats up

As Natan Sharansky leaves his post after nine years as head of the Agency, Netanyahu and American Jewish leaders support rival candidates to replace him.

Leading candidates for Jewish Agency chairmanship Yuval Steinitz (L) and Isaac Herzog (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Leading candidates for Jewish Agency chairmanship Yuval Steinitz (L) and Isaac Herzog
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and American Jewish leaders sparred Wednesday over who will replace Natan Sharansky as head of the Jewish Agency.
Jewish Agency Board of Governors head Michael Siegal, who heads the search committee, told Netanyahu that the committee wants to give the job to Opposition leader Isaac Herzog. The committee voted eight to one in favor of Herzog Wednesday morning.
Netanyahu responded that he wants to give the job to his political ally, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz.
The search committee met with two candidates Wednesday: Herzog and Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai. It is possible that if one of the Zionist Union MKs gets the job, there will have to be a reshuffle of posts in the World Zionist Organization. The committee will meet again in Jerusalem Thursday morning and will interview Herzog.
Herzog's associates have repeatedly denied that he is interested in the job. They also said Tuesday night that no meeting with the search committee was scheduled — hours ahead of when the meeting took place.
Netanyahu's associates have also not been truthful. One said in a private conversation that the prime minister had a mystery candidate for the post who has not been the subject of speculation.
But Netanyahu ultimately endorsed Steinitz, who was on the list of six candidates for the position that The Jerusalem Post revealed exclusively in November. That list also included Herzog, Shai and former ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor, who may be interviewed for the post by video conference, because he is abroad. Current ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, whose name was also on the initial list, will reportedly stay on the job an extra year.
Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Michael Oren has decided not to seek the Agency chairmanship. He wrote Siegal a letter saying that he would rather remain in national politics.  
Sharansky intends to leave his post next week, when the Board of Governors meets, after nine years as agency chairman.
If Herzog receives the post, Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay, who is not an MK, will select a new leader of the opposition.