The 50 most influential Jews of 2014: 1-10

Unlike the previous two years, when Netanyahu and Lapid respectively held the No. 1 spot, our list this year is headed by Americans.

US Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew (photo credit: REUTERS)
US Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew
(photo credit: REUTERS)
1. Jack Lew, Secretary of the United States Treasury
JACK LEW is the most powerful Jew in the US administration, the world’s top superpower. Formerly President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, his current post of secretary of the Treasury puts him in one of the key jobs in the executive cabinet: proctoring economic recovery, forecasting future debt, and managing a complex infrastructure of international sanctions. The Treasury, not the Pentagon, would be responsible for the weapon of choice used by Obama against a nuclear Iran, and Lew has been central in shaping the policy.
Controlling the purse strings of the US Treasury, Lew’s proximity to the president, the most powerful person on the planet, is indisputable.
Last year, when Obama appointed Lew as his chief of staff, he said, “If there was a Hall of Fame for budget directors, then Jack Lew surely would have earned a place for his service in that role under president Clinton.”
Lew has served as one of Obama’s top lieutenants in negotiations over the “fiscal cliff” crisis. And when Obama was locked in painful spending negotiations with House Republicans last spring, Lew went to the Oval Office to propose some complex budget changes.
As Lew delved deeper and deeper into the numbers, Obama put up his hand, signaling him to stop.
“Jack, it’s fine,” the president said, according to Gene Sperling, Obama’s economics adviser, who witnessed the exchange. “I trust your values. I trust your judgment on this.”
His appointment to the Treasury secretary was above else a testament to Obama’s appreciation of Lew’s skills, values and judgment. But it was also an opportunity for Jews in Israel and abroad to delight in the fact that a member of the tribe had climbed to such an influential position in the US.
This is especially true in the case of Lew, a man proud of his Jewish roots and unabashedly committed to his rich tradition. An Orthodox Jew who observes Shabbat, he regularly attends synagogue services. Lew’s former chief on the National Security Council, Sandy Berger, once commented that “Lew’s faith never got in the way of performing his duties.”
Unlike many of his Orthodox Jewish peers, who tend to hold relatively conservative political positions, Lew – whose father arrived in the US from Poland in 1916 – has a long history with the Democrats, particularly the party’s most liberal wing. Already in 1968, when just 12 years old, Lew canvassed in New York for senator Eugene McCarthy, a poet who ran on an anti-Vietnam war platform in the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In an interview with The New York Times, Lew said of that experience, “It was... my introduction to seeing that you could make a difference in people’s lives through politics.”
Lew and his wife, Ruth Schwartz, have two children.
• Michael Wilner
Janet Yellen (Reuters)Janet Yellen (Reuters)
2. Janet Yellen, Chairwoman of the Federal Reserve
JANET YELLEN made history this year when she became the first woman ever appointed chair of the US Federal Reserve. This made her one of the most influential people in the world, and arguably the most influential woman.
She was voted No. 2 on Forbes’s list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women this year.
Dominated by American Jews over the last 50 years – at least five chairmen have been practicing members of the faith – the position is now held by “one of the nation’s foremost economists and policy makers,” according to US President Barack Obama.
Yellen has an uphill climb: She is tasked with redefining the labor market, reassuring markets that the economic recovery is real, and convincing consumers to have confidence in their purchases for the first time in years. Her position has often been described as the most powerful position in the nation aside from that of president.
Before taking on this new role on February 3, 2014, Yellen held the second-highest position on the Federal Board of Governors, vice chair, from 2010 to 2014. Yellen simultaneously began a 14-year term as a member of the Federal Reserve Board that will expire on January 31, 2024.
A lifelong Democrat, she has been described as a “traditional American Keynesian” who has supported some of former chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke’s more unorthodox policies in dealing with a troubled economy during the Great Recession.
Yellen is seen as a monetary policy “dove” whose views on the economy mesh with the Obama administration’s, particularly on high unemployment being a greater threat to the nation’s economy than inflation. “Reducing unemployment should take center stage,” Yellen has said.
The New Yorker magazine said of her that “In a field noted for its conservatism and adherence to free-market orthodoxy, [Yellen] has long stood out as a lively and liberal thinker who resisted the rightward shift that many of her colleagues took in the 80s and 90s.”
Janet Louise Yellen is married to George Akerlof, a Nobel prize-winning economist and professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. Their son, Robert Akerlof, teaches economics at the University of Warwick.
Yellen is due to receive an honorary doctorate from the London School of Economics in July 2014, making her and George Akerlof “the first wife-and-husband team to hold honorary doctorates from the school.”
• Michael Wilner
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (Marc Israel Sellem)Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (Marc Israel Sellem)
3. Binyamin Netanyahu, Prime minister of Israel
BY THE very nature of the position, the prime minister of Israel – regardless of who occupies that office at any given time – must be high atop any list of the world’s most influential Jews.
What the prime minister says and does has enormous impact – life and death – on the lives of the country’s 8.2 million people, including 6.1 million Jews, the largest Jewish community in the world. But not only. The prime minister’s words and actions impact mightily on Israel’s Jewish brethren abroad, because of the way the Diaspora community is interwoven with Israel.
And, finally, there is not a Jew alive whose pronouncements and decisions are more important to a wide array of world leaders and their advisers – from US President Barack Obama to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Saudi Arabian King Abdullah – than those of the prime minister of Israel. Standing at the top of the strongest country in the Middle East – economically, technologically and militarily – gives the prime minister a degree of power and influence that no other Jew in the world can rival.
Those who ask how Netanyahu sees his position, how he envisions his historic function, would do well to study the speech he delivered at Yad Vashem-Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority on Holocaust Remembrance Day in April. Because that speech embodies how he sees his role.
Netanyahu drew parallels between the period leading up to World War II and the Holocaust, and the present situation regarding Iran. “Very few world leaders understood the enormity of the threat to humanity posed by Nazism,” Netanyahu said. “[Former British prime minister Winston] Churchill was one of them. Few among our leaders, primarily [Ze’ev] Jabotinsky, warned against the imminent destruction facing our nation, but they were widely criticized and their warnings were disregarded, and they were treated as merchants of doom and warmongers.”
Netanyahu’s subtext in that speech, his implied message, was that he was a leader with a sense of his historic responsibility, that he was a leader who would act if compelled to do so.
He sees his primary role as the protector of Israel, not necessarily the peacemaker for Israel.
He sees himself as one who will defend the Jewish people and its homeland, not divide Jerusalem or give up Shiloh.
This does not mean Netanyahu would not like to bring peace, rather he believes that in the present situation, the current generation of Palestinian leadership will not agree to his formula: a demilitarized Palestinian state that lives alongside and recognizes the Jewish State of Israel.
Netanyahu is legacy minded. How will he be remembered? What will have been his influence? What was his historic function? His answer? The defender of his people and its homeland, a leader who provided Jews with security, and who sounded the alarm for all to hear – even those who were plugging their ears – well before it was too late.
• Herb Keinon
President Shimon Peres (Mark Neiman/GPO)President Shimon Peres (Mark Neiman/GPO)
4. Shimon Peres , President of Israel
ANYONE WHO thinks that after July 26, when his seven- year term as president expires, Shimon Peres will fade into oblivion is greatly mistaken. Let it not be forgotten that he is the country’s only president who was also prime minister and vice president of the Socialist International.
During his seven years as president, every major delegation that came to Israel and every visiting dignitary asked for a meeting with Peres. He now has a string of invitations from his global network of contacts: policymakers, past and present heads of state and government, writers, actors, artists, hi-tech gurus, scientists, philanthropists and other people of influence.
Peres symbolizes the history and development of the State of Israel in which he played a significant role from the period prior to the establishment of the state up to the present day. He is credited with having conceived Israel Aircraft Industries and the nuclear reactor in Dimona. He was the brains behind the Operation Entebbe rescue mission in 1976, and he took Israel out of triple-digit inflation. He promoted nanotechnology and is currently promoting brain research.
A tireless advocate for peace, Peres is optimistic and continues in his efforts to persuade the Arab world that peace will bring prosperity to its countries and take its citizens out of the cycle of poverty.
Peres did not wait until he was out of office to build his legacy. He established the Peres Center for Peace in 1996 for the purpose of fostering cross-border relationships in agriculture, water and environment, business and economics, civil leadership and peace education, culture, media and the arts, food security, medicine and health care and sport and technology. The center is engaged in numerous projects and programs for adults, youth and children aimed at breaking down barriers of hostility and living as good neighbors in every sense of that concept.
Peres may cease to be a public servant, but he will remain a public figure, and many visiting dignitaries who in the past beat a path to Jerusalem will also beat one to Jaffa, where the Peres Center for Peace is located.
• Greer Fay Cashman
Sheldon Adelson (Reuters)Sheldon Adelson (Reuters)
5. Sheldon Adelson, CEO and owner of Sands Hotel and Casino, philanthropist
A TENDENCY towards entrepreneurship was already evident when Sheldon Adelson, chairman of the board, CEO and principal owner of the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, was still a boy in his native Boston. He was only 12 years old when he first went into business by borrowing $200 from his uncle to buy a license to sell newspapers.
Four years later he went into the vending- machine business, selling candy. Following a stint in the army, he sold toiletry kits, then ventured into chemical sprays to clear frozen windshields.
Moving in a different direction altogether, he founded a charter tours enterprise that turned a profit.
Adelson has formed more than 50 companies including COMDEX, one of the world’s preeminent computer expo and mega exhibition companies. Along the way he was a mortgage broker, investment adviser and financial consultant contributing to his becoming a multi-billionaire.
Due to his ventures, often in fields where others feared to tread, Adelson developed a reputation for being unafraid of risk-taking. His business enterprises had their ups and downs, but according to Forbes, the multinational businessman, mega philanthropist and octogenarian, primarily known as a casino tycoon, is on a roll. In March, he was back on the magazine’s list of the 10 richest people in the world with a net worth of $40.8 billion – after a seven-year absence.
Just before and during that time, he donated tens of millions of dollars to causes in the United States, Israel, China and Singapore. Adelson is a firm believer in giving back to the community wherever he sets up one of his resorts.
A die-hard Republican, in 2012 he spent more than $100 million on the unfulfilled wish of having a Republican as the 45th president of the United States.
As a man who attracts controversy, Adelson is waging battles on two fronts.
One is in the US, where he is spending a great deal of money fighting Internet gambling. The other is in Israel, where he is combating proposed legislation to close down his tabloid newspaper Israel Hayom. The paper is a give-away, and its rival Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s former most popular daily, is using all its influence with legislators to bring about a law forbidding the distribution of free daily newspapers.
Major Israeli beneficiaries of Adelson’s philanthropy through the Adelson Family Foundation, which he set up together with his second wife Dr. Miriam Adelson, include Yad Vashem-Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, Taglit-Birthright Israel, the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, the Dr.
Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Clinic for Drug Abuse Treatment and Research, and medical research in the areas of neurology, immunology and oncology.
Adelson was a key sponsor of the Israeli Presidential Conference: Facing Tomorrow.
• Greer Fay Cashman
Malcolm Hoenlein (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)Malcolm Hoenlein (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
6. Malcolm Hoenlein, Vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
A NUMBER of poky rooms in the back of the Jewish Agency’s New York office on Manhattan’s East Side appear to suffice for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and its longtime president.
Sitting in his crowded inner sanctum, it is hard to believe just how influential Malcolm Hoenlein is, at least until you hear him speak. A confidant of presidents and kings, Hoenlein is a longtime Jewish activist who got his start during the struggle for Soviet Jewry.
Representing the interests of a large segment of American Jewry, he lobbies the Executive Branch for Israel, just as conference member AIPAC lobbies Congress. Working to secure the Jewish community, he liaises with the FBI and other federal and local law enforcement agencies as part of his work in helping lead the Secure Community Network, a joint initiative of the conference and the Jewish Federations of North America.
Hoenlein is also well known for his radio show and his insistence, despite rising assimilation and intermarriage – coupled with a decrease in involvement in Israeli advocacy and Jewish communal involvement – that young Jews are not lost to the Jewish people.
In a series of interviews with The Jerusalem Post over the past year, Hoenlein hammered home that point again and again.
Young American Jews care very much about Israel,” he said. “I think that one of the huge problems we have is ignorance... and [that] you don’t have a rallying cause – like we had with Soviet Jews, Syrian Jews and Ethiopian Jews – for people to manifest their interest.”
There are fundamental changes taking place in the affiliation of American Jews, he continued. There are indeed many young Jews who are disinterested, but “that was always true.”
Still, he stressed, “it’s not disaffection. There is tremendous ignorance, and I think that is a critical factor. Part of the problem is education, especially educating youth. We neglect our youth in the community and in the general population.”
In cultivating the next generation of communal leaders, America’s Jewish community must “think out of the box and say that the traditional ways are no longer necessarily relevant for today,” he believes.
Many of the organizations of the past “do not attract the young generation, but they are creating new vehicles and new approaches” to try and stay relevant, he told the Post.
Founded in the 1950s by over 50 Jewish organizations to provide a united front in dealing with the federal government, the conference is one of the most visible arms of America Jewry, making Hoenlein the communal representative par excellence.
• Sam Sokol
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
7. Avigdor Liberman, Foreign minister of Israel
WHAT A year it has been for Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman. He was acquitted on charges of corruption, ending a legal saga that stretched for nearly 17 years.
He returned to the Foreign Ministry, building a close relationship with US Secretary of State John Kerry that he did not have with Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton, who had shunned him.
And he restored his political power, helping pass electoral reforms and the haredi conscription bill.
Liberman has decided not to continue his Yisrael Beytenu Party’s bond with Likud in the next elections, and he has started flirting politically with popular former communications minister Moshe Kahlon, who could help him maintain his political strength.
Liberman sent shock waves through Israeli politics when he became the first high-profile figure in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition to openly suggest initiating new elections, in an interview at The Jerusalem Post Conference with The Jerusalem Post editor- in-chief Steve Linde.
After Liberman was seen as shifting leftward, he returned to his political base by saying that he would rather have elections than change the coalition or return to the deal by which Israel would release Palestinian terrorists in order to continue American-brokered diplomatic negotiations.
Now, he aims to use his perch as the No. 2 man in Netanyahu’s faction to advance legislation on issues such as civil unions and conversion.
How he fares in his efforts to use his legal freedom to advance his agenda will determine his political future.
• Gil Hoffman
Adina Bar-Shalom (Sarah Levin)Adina Bar-Shalom (Sarah Levin)
8. Adina Bar-Shalom. Founder of the Haredi College for Women
ADINA BAR-SHALOM is not a radical revolutionary. But since the death of her father Rabbi Ovadia Yosef – the leader of the Shas party – last October, the 69-year-old Tel Aviv mother of three has been increasingly daring, at least according to the standards of the ultra-Orthodox community into which she was born.
Bar-Shalom is known primarily for establishing, in 2000, the Haredi College in Jerusalem, that provides occupational training for ultra-Orthodox women and men, helping them integrate into the labor market. She skillfully enlisted her father to provide the needed rabbinic clout to legitimize the endeavor, which was considered highly controversial in ultra-Orthodox circles.
In a sense, the Haredi College was Bar-Shalom’s point of self-discovery outside her upbringing. After her arranged marriage at the age of 17, she worked as a seamstress. Her aspiration to study psychology was at the time, vetoed by her father and husband.
Today, psychology is taught at the Haredi College.
In the months after her father’s death, Bar-Shalom has considered becoming a candidate for president of Israel, and running for a seat in the Knesset, roles that he had ruled as off limits to women.
She was awarded this year with the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement.
“She managed to navigate the choppy waters of opposing worldviews and fierce disagreements and offer a significant social contribution,” the committee that granted her the prize announced.
• Jerusalem Post staff
Yair Lapid, Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem PostYair Lapid, Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post
9. Yair Lapid, Finance minister of Israel
LAST YEAR, Finance Minister Yair Lapid topped this list.
He was chosen because he had rocketed his way to the top of the Israeli consciousness and redefined the country’s priorities away from security concerns and toward domestic issues, galvanizing an otherwise splintered Center bloc.
In a recent interview, Lapid boasted to The Jerusalem Post that out of the five main promises his party had made ahead of last year’s election, four were already being implemented: The electoral system was changed, the conscription bill was passed, diplomatic talks with the Palestinians were restarted and educational reforms were being carried out.
He said the only one that has not been done was lowering the cost of the housing market – a goal that he said required a lot more work.
Despite his successes, Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party is not doing particularly well in the polls. His job as finance minister eroded his support, his constituency saw the conscription bill as overly generous to the ultra-Orthodox and the diplomatic agenda that dominated the news this past year was Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni’s baby, not his.
The race for president made Lapid seem irrelevant.
He could have proven himself as a kingmaker by bringing in a maverick candidate from outside the political world who would wow the people of Israel and win the support of the Knesset.
But instead he kept his vote a secret and scattered his MKs among five presidential candidates. Why? Because he honestly didn’t care who won.
For a man with prime ministerial aspirations, Lapid should have at least feigned interest. For him to top this list again, Lapid must regain his political drive, win back support in the polls and continue to dominate the national agenda.
• Gil Hoffman
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Reuters)Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Reuters)
10. Naftali Bennett, Economy minister of Israel
WHENEVER BAYIT Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett was asked about the Palestinian conflict during the election campaign, he gave a short answer and tried to change the subject to what he really cared about.
He knew that in the eyes of Israelis the election was more about bridging socioeconomic gaps, advancing matters of religion and state as well as bringing fresh voices into politics.
But then the government was formed, US Secretary of State John Kerry came to Israel 11 times and the Palestinian issue dominated the national agenda.
All along, Bennett continued to downplay the talks – without undermining them. He simply waited for them to fail.
There are those who believe his party ensured their failure by advancing a construction project in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood, or by threatening to quit the coalition if Arab-Israeli terrorists would have been released, despite the inclusion of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard in the deal with the Americans.
But the facts prove the former claim untrue, and the latter argument became irrelevant when later ideas for reviving the talks were rejected by the Palestinian Authority in favor of a deal with Hamas.
So Bennett has his way. The talks are dead, at least for now. His strategy was proven correct in hindsight.
His new goal is to try to convince Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to annex Area C, the areas of Judea and Samaria where Jews live.
It is clearly a long shot. But if Bennett’s strategy was right last year, who knows? Perhaps he can use his powers of persuasion to have his way again in the year ahead.
• Gil Hoffman
'The Jerusalem Post's' top 50 most influential Jews of: 11-20
'The Jerusalem Post's' top 50 most influential Jews of: 21-30
'The Jerusalem Post's' top 50 most influential Jews of: 31-40
'The Jerusalem Post's' top 50 most influential Jews of: 41-50