Netanyahu to ask Sharansky to be Jewish Agency chairman

Former minister wanted to run for position in 2005, but his candidacy was prevented by then-PM Ariel Sharon.

bibi sharansky 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
bibi sharansky 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will soon ask former minister and dissident Natan Sharansky to serve as chairman of the Jewish Agency, sources close to the two men confirmed on Sunday. Sharansky, who currently heads the Shalem Center's Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies, wanted to run for the position in 2005, but his candidacy was prevented by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, who backed then-Ra'anana mayor and current Kadima MK Ze'ev Bielski. But unlike that race, Sharansky would have the prime minister's support this time, making him a certain winner. "There has not yet been a formal and serious offer, but when there is one, he would take it," said a source close to Netanyahu and Sharansky who spoke about the matter with Sharansky on Sunday. A source familiar with the effort to draft the former MK said that Netanyahu had been pressuring Sharansky to take the job and told him it could be a springboard to the presidency. Netanyahu has reportedly even pressured Sharansky's current boss, international businessman Sheldon Adelson, to allow Sharansky to leave the institute that bears Adelson's name. But Adelson has insisted that he stay. The Zionist General Council will convene June 16-18 in Jerusalem to choose its chairman, who would then be the definite choice for Jewish Agency chairman during its assembly in the capital June 21-23. Sharansky is considered very close to Netanyahu, and their ideologies are identical. Ron Dermer, who co-wrote Sharansky's book The Case for Democracy, is now Netanyahu's top adviser in the Prime Minister's Office. Other names that have been mentioned for the position include former IDF deputy chief of General Staff Uzi Dayan, who has lobbied for the post, and Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, who has denied that she was interested. Politicians from the Left such as former Labor-Meimad MKs Michael Melchior and Colette Avital might have considered running, but they have no chance with Netanyahu in power. Likud MK Danny Danon, who pushed Sharansky to run last time as a protest against Sharon's Gaza disengagement plan, told Netanyahu that he had to give Sharansky the job this time to make up for the disrespect shown to him in 2005. At Sharon's request, a group of wealthy benefactors on the Agency's advise and consent committee vetoed his candidacy. Sharansky told The Jerusalem Post at the time that he had decided to run despite Sharon's opposition to his candidacy, because he wanted to use his experience to help the Jewish people. "I was surprised that the opening was closed so quickly, and when I found out what the normal democratic process was, I applied," Sharansky said. "[My decision] is not about Sharon or my political views. It's about absorption, immigration, Diaspora affairs and the struggle against anti-Semitism - the issues I have been dealing with all my life. These are not issues of parties. They are issues of the Jewish people, and I hope the considerations [that decide who gets the job] will be professional." But in another interview in January, the 61-year-old Sharansky sounded content to remain at Adelson's think tank and stay out of the political fray, even if he were offered the Foreign Ministry. "I won't keep a secret that I'm still in the Likud," Sharansky said. "But no one is proposing, and I didn't ask for this or any other position. I have different tools now to promote my ideas from outside the Knesset."