‘You must love the Jews,’ Jewish Agency head tells potential successor

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky will finish his term in June after nine years.

Natan Sharansky  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Natan Sharansky
It is still unclear when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will announce a successor to Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, who finishes his term in June after nine years, but Sharansky already delivered the advice needed to succeed in the post on Tuesday, at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem.
The agency’s board of governors will convene next week at the Elma Hotel in Zichron Ya’acov. But Netanyahu is not expected to select a candidate by then, which would delay the appointment to the next board meeting in Jerusalem on June 24 to 26, after which Sharansky intends to immediately leave the post.
“I will tell you what I tell every candidate,” Sharansky said. “To survive in the agency not only for nine years but even for one, you have to love the Jewish people. I don’t like conference calls on cutting programs and the bureaucracy of Israel and the Jewish world. But I love our projects and meeting with people about them. You have to enjoy the feeling of being an emissary of the Jewish people and building bridges between Israel and the Diaspora.”
Sharansky will be honored for his service in the post at a gala dinner in New York, in which former US president George W. Bush is set to be the keynote speaker. When he was president, Bush told people to read Sharansky’s book The Case for Democracy.
“I’m finishing nine years in the Jewish Agency after nine years in a Soviet prison,” Sharansky said. “They asked me to stay longer, and I said I can’t add more years to the time I served in prison.”
Candidates who have been rumored for the position include Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Michael Oren, Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai, former ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev president Rivka Carmi, and industrialist Raya Strauss.
“I think it’s wonderful that there are many wonderful candidates to head the Jewish Agency who would do a great job,” said Conference of Presidents executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein.
Participants in the Conference of Presidents closed-door meetings at the Knesset on Tuesday reported that Shai appeared to be lobbying Jewish leaders for the post. But Shai denied the accusation and said the Jewish leaders who came to the Knesset were not members of the selection committee.
One senior Jewish leader said he believed Oren had the inside track to receive the post. The head of one of the World Zionist Organization’s largest factions said he supported Oren.
Religious Zionists of America co-president Martin Oliner said he would like to see a religious Zionist receive the post. He spoke in favor of current ambassador to the US Ron Dermer and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who have both said they are not interested.
“Herzog would make a great chairman of the Jewish Agency, because of his respect for religious Zionism and understanding of Diaspora Jews,” Oliner said of the opposition leader, who does not wear a kippa but attends services every Shabbat.
One Jewish leader said he thought Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi would make a good agency chairman, but Hanegbi, who turns 61 next week, noted that most agency chairmen were older than him.
“Maybe in another 25 years,” Hanegbi told The Jerusalem Post.