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Lapid nominates former Yesh Atid MK Ruth Calderon to head Jewish Agency

Jewish educator joins race after minister from FM’s party bowed out amid uproar over insinuation that he ignored anonymous sexual harassment complaints while in IDF

Former MK Ruth Calderon at the Rabbi Kook Museum in Jerusalem on March 5, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Former MK Ruth Calderon at the Rabbi Kook Museum in Jerusalem on March 5, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced Wednesday that his Yesh Atid party’s nominee to head the Jewish Agency will be Ruth Calderon, a former lawmaker from the centrist faction.

“Dr. Ruth Calderon is a role model who can represent us at the Jewish Agency with her deep knowledge of Jewish history and the challenges of the future,” Lapid said in a statement.

Calderon is a longtime Jewish educator, Talmud scholar and founder of Israel’s first secular study center. She served in the Knesset from 2013 to 2015.

Calderon replaces Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern as Yesh Atid’s pick to head the Jewish Agency. Stern withdrew his candidacy amid controversy over comments he made suggesting he had ignored anonymous complaints — possibly including sexual harassment claims — when serving as head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate.

The former Yesh Atid MK joins a crowded field of candidates that includes former Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, former diaspora minister Omer Yankelevich, former Kulanu MK and Israel’s ex-ambassador to the US Michael Oren, former Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh and Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum.

The committee that selects the next Jewish Agency chief has already begun inviting potential contenders to interviews for the job.

A source in Yesh Atid told The Times of Israel that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party is also expected to throw its support behind Calderon, which could give the former lawmaker an edge over other candidates.

Israel’s then-ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in the central Israeli city of Ra’anana, July 28, 2020. (Sebastian Scheiner/AP)

While the selection committee is not required to pick the candidate backed by the government, it does take the coalition’s recommendation into consideration.

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

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.

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

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