Jewish Agency Director-General Vigdor resigns, returns to higher education
Jewish Agency Director-G
By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
The Jewish Agency announced the resignation of its director-general Moshe Vigdor on Thursday.
Vigdor, who once spent eight years as director-general of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, will return to the higher education system as director of the Council for Higher Education, the government body that oversees the country's colleges and universities.
He goes into the university system as a member of a group of officials seeking the system's reform. He was a member of a subcommittee of the Shochat Commission under the Olmert government, an investigative committee charged with creating an outline for reforming a higher education system seen as inefficient and under-performing.
According to the office of agency chairman Natan Sharansky, Education Minister Gideon Saar asked the agency to relinquish Vigdor in order that he take over the Council for Higher Education with the impending retirement of current director Yonatan Stav.
While Sharansky's office said the chairman had yet to begin considering candidates to replace Vigdor, agency staffers say rumors already circulating point to former senior managers such as ex-Diaspora affairs adviser to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Bobby Brown.
Vigdor's time at the agency was a period of tension and debate over the organization's future. He was key to an agreement oft-criticized within the organization to cede much of the agency's North American aliya operations to Nefesh B'Nefesh. His defenders argue that his term has made the agency more efficient and better able to weather the global financial downturn.
Vigdor is also thought to have supported the candidacy of billionaire ISCAR co-owner Eytan Wertheimer for chairman of the agency in the wake of the departure last summer of then-chairman Ze'ev Bielski to the Knesset. Many agency staffers believe the relationship of Vigdor and Sharansky was a tense one, and that Sharansky did not fight to keep the director-general.
At the Council for Higher Education, Vigdor will work under another former agency director-general, ex-Taglit-birthright israel head and current Education Ministry director-general Shimshon Shoshani.
"Israel's future is in education, and in developing the higher education system," Vigdor said in a phone interview following the resignation announcement.
He acknowledged that the Jewish Agency "is not easy to manage. It's a huge public system, complex and connected to overseas elements with many layers of oversight." But, he said, "it is possible to run it. If I had felt frustration, I would have left years ago. True, it's hard. At 7 a.m. you're on the phone with Australia. At 9 p.m. you're talking to the US. You have to know how to work with staff and donors and leaders."
"But," he continued, "it's also a fascinating job. You see the commitment of Jews from around the world. You learn why the agency is more important for Israel than most Israelis realize."
Vigdor declined to give suggestions to his replacement, who "will have to implement the policy of the lay leadership," but he urged that the next director-general "continue the healthy process of making the organization more efficient and refreshed."
Another "problem" the agency faces "is that the average Israeli doesn't understand the importance of the Diaspora. That has to be addressed, so that they will then understand the significance of the agency's role in [Israel-Diaspora] partnerships."
In general, he said, the agency's future is bright.
"I think after five years at the agency, it is now much more transparent and efficient."
Sharansky, he said, "is extremely capable and will take the agency to good places. I respect him."
In the end, he leaves with good memories, Vigdor said. "I look forward to my next assignment in public service, but I know that I'm leaving behind many good friends."
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