Who says Israel’s chief rabbis are so powerful?

Foreign Policy for one, but few Israelis would agree on the inclusion of Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger among the magazine’s 500 most powerful people

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar (left) and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in April 2012 (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar (left) and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in April 2012 (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

NEW YORK — Who doesn’t love lists? It’s a great way to celebrate, to commemorate, and, well, to count other lists.

So it’s not surprising that even the thoughtful, wonky Foreign Policy should succumb to the temptation. Its May/June edition includes the influential magazine’s inaugural “Power Map,” a list of the 500 “most powerful people on the planet,” or, as the headline screams “The 0.000007 Percent.”

To be sure, Israel holds pride of place in the listings. Israelis make up 0.114% of the world’s population, but Israel’s six Power Map laureates constitute 1.2% of the list. That is, they punch 10.5 times their demographic weight. (And Jews, of course, extend that advantage. The list includes billionaires such as Sheldon Adelson and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, tech innovators such as Google’s Sergey Brin and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, film executives Harvey and Bob Weinstein, etc.)

The first four Israeli members of that august list are no-brainers: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a key figure in regional and even global politics. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon leads arguably the most powerful military in the region. National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror is a former top general and a key aide to the prime minister. And Mossad chief Tamir Pardo heads a service that, for all its secrecy, needs no introduction.

But the two remaining names might lead to some head-scratching, especially in Israel: Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger.

It is perhaps understandable why the list-makers would seek to put a couple of rabbis on the list. The pope is on there, as is the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, the Dalai Lama and Muslim imams from Britain to Pakistan. You’ve got to have a rabbi in there somewhere, seems to be the feeling at FP HQ.

But even Israel’s chief rabbis acknowledge they are hardly examples of religious clout, especially among Jews. They consult with their own rabbinic masters, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef or (until his death in 2012) the haredi Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, when they make their most important decisions. And outside of a few narrow strands of Israeli Orthodoxy, their authority extends a very short way, indeed. There are certainly more influential rabbis in the Jewish world — and even in Israel.

Did FP run out of influential Israelis? How was Stanley Fischer, renowned economist, Bank of Israel governor and thesis adviser to Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, judged less influential than Yona Metzger? What about Jeremy Levin, CEO of Teva, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies? Or the clever high-tech brains behind key global technologies like cellphones, USB drives and network security solutions?

The surprising inclusion of Metzger and Amar in an “inventory of the people who control the commanding heights of the industries that run the world” makes one start to question the entries for other countries. Are the South Korean, Russian or Indonesian laureates truly the world’s movers and shakers, or, as surely happened with Israel, a case of affirmative action in the ranks of the global elite?

Incidentally, Hamas’s Khaled Mashaal also made the list — but is listed, together with Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, under “Evil.”

It’s also worth saying something about the place of women on the list. Women make up just 10 percent of the Power Map, including just 3% of business and economic leaders and exactly zero of the religious leaders FP considers most influential. And there are no women among the world’s top spy chiefs or media moguls, either.

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