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As Jewish Agency seeks its next chief, Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai not in running

Committee invites candidates for interviews, among them deputy Jerusalem mayor and ex-ambassadors, but not the Labor member, whose portfolio might be needed to shore up coalition

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai attends the Jewish People's Lobby, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai attends the Jewish People's Lobby, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai is not one of the final candidates for head of the Jewish Agency, whose selection committee has begun inviting the contenders for the position to come in for interviews.

Shai’s name has not been submitted for consideration by the government.

The minister’s possible nomination to head the agency, which focuses on Israel’s ties with the diaspora Jewish community abroad, had been reported as part of a potential government reshuffle aimed at satisfying the demands of coalition members.

Those who have received a call to face the selection committee are Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, who is co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council; former Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon; former diaspora minister Omer Yankelevich; former Kulanu MK and ex-Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren; and former Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh.

Meanwhile, the head of ANU-Museum of the Jewish People, Irina Nevzlin, who is married to Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, has withdrawn her candidacy.

Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, chairwoman of the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education, and former Likud MK Uzi Dayan did not receive a call from the selection committee, meaning their candidacy will not go forward.

It is believed a final decision will be made by February, when the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meets.

Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem and co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council Fleur Hassan-Nahoum at Dubai’s al- Habtoor palace in the United Arab Emirates, on October 13, 2020. (Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

The governing body consists of 10 people — five members of the World Zionist Organization, three representatives from the Jewish Federations of North America, and two representatives from Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal.

In October, Hebrew media reports said that government officials had been discussing selecting Labor party member Shai to head the Jewish Agency and transferring his ministerial portfolio to Yisrael Beytenu lawmaker Eli Avidar.

The move would have solved two problems for the coalition by finding a suitable head for the Jewish Agency after a controversy erupted over the previous candidate, Yesh Atid’s Elazar Stern, and by appeasing Avidar, a rebellious lawmaker who was dissatisfied with his government position.

Deputy Minister Michael Oren at the Knesset, June 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel)

Shai was reportedly interested in the Jewish Agency position and had begun talks with some relevant officials on the possibility of taking over as chairman.

However, Shai’s move out of the government would have weakened his Labor faction and party leader Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli would have needed to agree to a deal that included some form of compensation.

Avidar has served in Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party since 2019, but ties between the two soured in June when the lawmaker was not given a ministerial post. On the day of the new government’s swearing-in that month, Avidar said he would no longer vote along party lines.

Following negotiations between Avidar and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office, a compromise was reached under which Avidar would be named minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of strategic planning. He was supposed to be appointed intelligence minister once Stern left the position to head the Jewish Agency.

However, the plan was thrown into disarray when Stern, the coalition’s pick for the position, withdrew his candidacy amid controversy over comments he made suggesting he had ignored anonymous complaints — possibly including sexual harassment claims — during his time as head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate.

The previous head of the Jewish Agency, Isaac Herzog, was elected Israel’s president in June.

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