Some candidates express unhappiness about the delay

Jewish Agency postpones vote for chairman after Stern scandal

Board of semi-governmental body gives another month for new applicants, after coalition pick drops out over controversial comments

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Top row (L-R) Tzipi Livni (Flash90), Omer Yankelevich (FLash90), Michal Kotler-Wunsh (Rami Zarenger), Bottom row (L-R) Fleur Hassan-Nahoum (AFP);  Irina Nevzlin (Courtesy), Yaffa Zilbershats (Flash90)
Top row (L-R) Tzipi Livni (Flash90), Omer Yankelevich (FLash90), Michal Kotler-Wunsh (Rami Zarenger), Bottom row (L-R) Fleur Hassan-Nahoum (AFP); Irina Nevzlin (Courtesy), Yaffa Zilbershats (Flash90)

The Jewish Agency’s executive committee on Monday postponed the vote for the next chairman of the organization by two months.

The vote had originally been scheduled for October 24. The new deadline for the coalition to submit a candidate has now been extended until November 17, while a vote on the new chief will be held around a month after that.

The nominee will be formally approved in February when the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meets.

The race, which has made for unexpectedly compelling headlines this year, was thrown into disarray after the coalition’s pick, Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern, withdrew his candidacy last week amid a 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.

With Stern out of the race, the coalition is searching for another candidate. Their task is complicated by Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar, who had been slated to take over Stern’s ministry and has said he will not vote with the coalition until he is given a portfolio.

It remains unclear whether another minister would be willing to run for the Jewish Agency post and make room for Avidar, but Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai is the most likely candidate at this point. Reports emerged Sunday that he is joining the race.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai arrives at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last week, the Times of Israel reported that former foreign minister Tzipi Livni was considering joining the race as well.

Some candidates expressed displeasure at the decision to delay the vote.

“I remain in the running,” former MK and Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren told The Times of Israel. “The Jewish people are facing a crisis of historic dimensions, and this is certainly not the time to balk. I remain committed to the unity, security and enrichment of the Jewish people.”

“The Jewish Agency chairmanship is too important to be decided based on purely political considerations,” said another candidate on condition of anonymity. “The Agency should be led by someone who actually wants the position and has been in the race from the beginning.”

“I remain committed to serving the State of Israel and the Jewish people, championing the intersecting pillars of Aliya; relations between Israel and global Jewry; and the imperative to bridge political, cultural and religious dividesm” said Michal Cotler-Wunsh, a former MK also seeking the nomination, in response to the delay.

With Stern out of the running, Lapid had sent a letter to the Jewish Agency board requesting that the decision be delayed.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (R) with MK Elazar Stern at a press conference in Tel Aviv, on January 18, 2015. (Ben Kelmer/FLASH90)

Last Wednesday evening, the Jewish Agency board notified Lapid that they would not be delaying the process by several months. The one-month deferral is a compromise.

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.

One of the candidates who had conversations with members of the nominating committee told The Times of Israel that they were under the impression the committee members were interested in choosing a woman for the position for the first time.

Responding Tuesday to questions about whether a woman should be chosen as the next chair, the Jewish Agency said: “The committee will select the best candidate.”

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

Among those who have applied for the chairmanship are former minister Omer Yankelevich, who is supported by the Blue and White party; former MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh, who was elected to the Knesset with Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party and later left Telem and joined Blue and White; former Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, who currently serves as World Likud chairman; former Likud MK Uzi Dayan; former Kulanu MK and former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren; the head of ANU – Museum of the Jewish People, Irina Nevzlin, who is married to Likud MK Yuli Edelstein; Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, chairwoman of the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education; and Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum.

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