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Herzog recommends Tzipi Livni replace him as opposition leader

Newly elected Jewish Agency head endorses ex-foreign minister for role, but party leader Avi Gabbay said still weighing other options

Isaac Herzog (right) seen with MK Tzipi Livni at a Zionist Union faction meeting in the Knesset on February 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Isaac Herzog (right) seen with MK Tzipi Livni at a Zionist Union faction meeting in the Knesset on February 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Newly elected Jewish Agency chief Isaac Herzog on Monday recommended that Zionist Union No. 2, MK Tzipi Livni, replace him as the Knesset’s opposition leader.

In an interview with Israel Radio, Herzog, who will relinquish his Knesset seat before he assumes leadership of the Jewish Agency later this summer, said former foreign minister Livni should take over his parliamentary role, citing a rotation deal the two inked ahead of the 2015 elections.

When her Hatnua party merged with Herzog’s Labor Party to form the Zionist Union slate, Livni had initially agreed to a two-year rotation of the premiership if the Zionist Union was tasked with forming the coalition. However, 12 hours before the 2015 election, she announced she would forgo the premiership rotation.

Herzog’s recommendation is controversial as Hatnua currently holds only five of the Zionist Union’s 24 Knesset seats.

Zionist Union party leader Avi Gabbay speaks at the American Jewish Committee Global Forum in Jerusalem on June 11, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In most cases, the leader of the largest Knesset opposition party is the opposition leader but Avi Gabbay, who won the helm of the Labor party away from Herzog in 2017, cannot take on the position as he is not currently a member of the Knesset.

Gabbay began holding discussions Monday to decide on the next opposition leader. According to Channel 10, in addition to Livni, former Labor leaders Shelly Yachimovich and Amir Peretz are also under consideration for the position.

Gabbay is tasked with selecting a sitting Knesset member for the senior role and submitting the request to the Knesset speaker. The replacement leader must then receive the backing of over half of the 54 opposition Knesset members.

On Sunday, the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors unanimously elected Herzog, a former cabinet minister and current leader of the opposition, to succeed Nathan Sharansky as its chairman of its executive.

In the radio interview Monday, Herzog said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had wanted his confidant Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz to take the position, has not yet phoned to congratulate him.

Outgoing Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky (right) and Chairman-elect MK Isaac Herzog following Herzog’s election at the Jewish Agency Board of Governors’ meetings in Jerusalem, June 24, 2018. (Nir Kafri for The Jewish Agency for Israel/courtesy)

Herzog also made an appeal to the Israeli government and religious authorities to ease the conversion to Judaism process.

Two of the biggest issues widening the rift between the communities have been access for non-Orthodox streams of Judaism to the Western Wall and the refusal of the Israel rabbinate to recognize many conversions performed by US rabbis.

“We have to make it possible for anyone who wants to be Jewish to join easily,” he said. “As [the biblical] Ruth said, ‘Your people is my people and your homeland is my homeland.” Herzog was subsequently called out on social media for the misquotation — there is no reference to homeland in the verse — and for leaving out the key phrase, “Your God is my God.”

In his acceptance speech on Sunday, Herzog, whose grandfather Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog was a chief rabbi of Israel, also stressed that all Jews should be accepted by the State of Israel.

“We have to strengthen the centrality of Israel within the heart of every Jew, especially the young generations; to fight BDS [the anti-Israel Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement], to educate, to connect and to promote aliyah [immigration], and to bring more and more Jews to Israel,” Herzog added.

“A Jew is a Jew is a Jew, and it doesn’t matter to what stream he belongs to or what he wears on his head,” Herzog went on. “We are all one people, and this is what we need to do to preserve and foster the great story of the Jews, and the great story of the State of Israel being the pumping heart of the Jewish people.”

Outgoing Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky is to step down next month after nine years in the position.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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