Michael Oren must be the next Jewish Agency leader - opinion

Michael Oren is a distinguished historian, professor, author, commentator and former ambassador to Washington.

MICHAEL OREN, in his role as ambassador to the US, speaks at a Holocaust event in Washington’s Capitol Rotunda in 2012 (photo credit: BENJAMIN MYERS/REUTERS)
MICHAEL OREN, in his role as ambassador to the US, speaks at a Holocaust event in Washington’s Capitol Rotunda in 2012
(photo credit: BENJAMIN MYERS/REUTERS)

Rarely do the demands of history and the destiny of historically suited leaders to meet historic challenges coincide – let alone at a time of such urgency facing the Jewish world.  

So, too, is it today, as the Jewish Agency, the unique and vital bridge and answer to the critical challenges of relations between Jews in the Diaspora and Israel, seeks a new leader in the mold of historical figures like Abba Eban, Natan Sharansky, and now President Isaac Herzog. 

With swiftly rising antisemitism beyond the confines of Europe or the FSU, vast numbers of Jews, especially young people in the United States, are being driven away and alienated from Jewish identity, Jewish peoplehood, and the Jewish state. The Jewish Agency has the unique ability – and the historic responsibility – to defend the Jewish people and bring us back from the brink.

At no time in Jewish history have the stakes been higher for the Jewish Agency and its Board leadership to choose a candidate of purpose and stature; a historic actor, experienced with Israel, the United States, skilled in diplomacy, and capable of leading the Jewish Agency toward am echad (one people), and in such a way that it creates a home for Jews of all sects of Jewish religious observance and cultural identity. 

The appointments of Natan Sharansky and Isaac Herzog as chairmen greatly elevated the position; this trajectory must continue.

 View of the Jewish Agency headquarters in Jerusalem,  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90) View of the Jewish Agency headquarters in Jerusalem, (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

Michael Oren is now the answer: Israel’s successful ambassador to Washington from 2009 to 2013, a former government minister and member of Knesset, an active member of an Orthodox community but equally comfortable and effective in the company of Reform or Reconstructionist Jews as in relating to Conservative Jews, hassidic Jews in Mexico or Mea She’arim, and possessing the diplomatic skills to help navigate the am echad policy that the Jewish world needs today so deeply.

Michael Oren has been integrally linked to the Jewish Agency. As an American Jew, he made aliyah through the agency and resided in one of its absorption centers. He served as a lone soldier in the IDF, created the Lone Soldier Caucus in the Knesset, and worked as an emissary to refusniks in the Soviet Union. As ambassador to the US, he reached out to all streams of Judaism, insisting on speaking at Reform, Conservative and Orthodox synagogues alike.

He worked closely with Sharansky to secure the Western Wall agreement for egalitarian prayer. He was a Knesset co-sponsor of Aliyah Day and a member of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs. Another role he has played: Israel’s representative on the Birthright/Taglit steering committee.

The chairman must lead the Jewish Agency in reaching out to young Jews where they are – not in synagogues but online with a message of inclusiveness, of both unity and respect for diversity, and a reenergized Israel education designed to preserve and strengthen Jewish identity and Israel-Diaspora relations.

Michael Oren is one of the best-known and respected figures in the Jewish world, a seasoned communicator in both English and Hebrew, a distinguished historian, professor, author and commentator, a leader in the fight against antisemitism and the effort to strengthen Israel-Diaspora relations. He is a political centrist, a traditional Jew with strong ties to both liberal and Orthodox Judaism, uniquely accessible to all streams.

Strengthening Jewish identity and strengthening Israel and the global Jewish family means deepening ties between all of the people of Israel, scattered in the Diaspora wherever we may remain, and the people of Israel living in and defending the nation-state of the Jewish people in our historic home: the Land of Israel. 

Choosing the next leader of the Jewish Agency can lead the Jewish people to renewed strength and the Jewish Agency to great success. Michael Oren is that leader.  

The writer is a foreign policy scholar and adjunct fellow at Hudson Institute.