Jewish Agency race: WZO could doom Bennett, Lapid’s candidate

Written by on August 18, 2021

The candidate of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid to head the Jewish Agency could lose his chance of receiving the post due to a decision set to be made Wednesday.

Bennett and Lapid support Intelligence Services Minister Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) to succeed new President Isaac Herzog as agency chairman.

However, the decision is not made by them, but by a 10-member selection committee comprised of five representatives of the World Zionist Organization, three of the Jewish Federations of North America and two of Keren Hayesod-United Jewish Appeal, representing world Jewry outside the US.

The support of nine members of the committee out of 10 is required for a candidate to be chosen. The members have yet to be selected.

If two WZO committee members are chosen who oppose Stern, he will lose his chance of receiving the plum post and the race will become wide open. 

As reported first by Makor Rishon Jewish world correspondent Zvika Klein, WZO chairman Yaakov Hagoel called an emergency meeting of the WZO Executive on short notice Wednesday morning to choose the organization’s selection committee members. 

In the past, the head of the WZO chose the committee members by himself. Hagoel decided to involve the Executive after he came under “significant political pressure from inside and outside the organization.”

Hagoel will present his list, which is based on the balance of power in the organization and allow it to be changed by members of the executive.

Due to the results of the last election to the WZO’s Zionist Congress, it is almost definite that at least one member of the committee will be from World Likud and one from World Mizrachi. If both of them oppose Stern, he will not be able to become agency chairman.

There are those who want to block Stern, because he could prevent haredim (the ultra-Orthodox) from gaining disproportionate power in Zionist institutions. 

“There is no doubt that the next agency chairman must increase involvement of Diaspora Jewry so they will be represented properly in national Zionist institutions, including the Mizrachi [National Religious], Reform and Conservative streams,” Stern told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday morning. “It is important they all feel a sense of belonging.”

Lapid already chose former Yisrael Beytenu renegade MK Eli Avidar to be Stern’s successor as intelligence services minister, on the assumption that Stern would receive the agency post.

A final decision on who will become agency chairman will be made when the Zionist Congress convenes at the end of October.

Besides Stern, candidates include former ambassadors to the UN Danny Danon and Ron Prosor, former Diaspora Affairs minister Omer Yankelevitch and Jerusalem deputy mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahum. Several other possible candidates have met with agency board of governors head Michael Siegal.

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