Sorry it’s been a little slow on the blog the last couple of days. Been working on this story:
NEW YORK (JTA) — Israel’s prime minister has nominated former Soviet dissident and close political ally Natan Sharansky for the chairmanship of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Once that would have made him a shoo-in for the job, but now some of the organization’s Diaspora-based lay leaders think they should be making the decision.
After several weeks of speculation, Benjamin Netanyahu publicly tapped Sharansky to chair the Jewish Agency’s executive committee. The spot became vacant when Ze’ev Bielski left the organization in November to run for the Israeli parliament.
Following Saturday night’s announcement from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Israeli press lauded Sharansky as the perfect candidate for the job. Jewish Agency officials in Israel hailed him as a Jewish hero who could help attract major donors to an organization that has enacted tens of millions of dollars in budget cuts in recent months as funds from one of its primary backers — the North American network of local Jewish federation — shrunk significantly.
“We’ve always had politicians, but now we could have someone of world stature who is accepted into the White House and is accepted all over the world,” one Israeli-based Jewish Agency insider told JTA Monday. “He’s been a man of stature, a freedom fighter — whatever adjective you want to give. Now the Jewish Agency is catapulted into world news, not only into Jewish news.”
But some of the Jewish Agency’s leaders in North America are quietly voicing concerns that Netanyahu’s announcement could undercut their plan to de-politicize the chairman position and keep this key decision in the hands of the organization.