The Jerusalem Post picked up on a story we floated in April about some brewing acrimony over the way in which Bibi Netanyahu has tried to install Natan Sharansky as the next chairman of the Jewish Agency.
Netanyahu nominated Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident, shortly after taking office this spring. In the past, that nomination would have made Sharansky the shoo-in for the top professional spot at the quasi-governmental agency charged with promoting aliyah and absorption of new immigrants to Israel.
But American philanthropists have long been put off by the politicized nature of the Jewish Agency — whose governing board is made up in large part by members of the World Zionist Organization who have been appointed for political purposes. And those same American philanthropists, who are representatives of the North American Jewish federation system that gives some $140 million to the Jewish Agency every year, have been pushing for reforms that would make sitting on the organization’s board less about political gains in Israel and more about serving the purposes of the Jewish Agency itself.
A plan to de-politicize the agency’s governance was formalized at November meetings of the organization’s board of governors and was expected to be ratified at the Jewish Agency Assembly June 21-23 in Jerusalem. But Netanyahu, when he gave Sharansky the nod, seemed to preempt those reforms, which would have included a process to take the appointment of the agency chairman out of the hands of the prime minister.
Now it appears that the prime minister is facing some major push back — hence the recent Jerusalem Post story headlined “Sharansky chairmanship of JA in danger.
Rabbi Dick Hirsch, the chairman of the WZO’s Zionist General Council and a WZO representative in the Jewish Agency Executive, was the one quoted sounding the alarm bells:
"I think Sharansky’s appointment is in danger," said Hirsch, who added that he, too, had heard the ongoing rumors within the agency that the Americans were hoping Israeli businessman Eytan Wertheimer would take the job.
Wertheimer fits the bill for an American-style lay leader of a large Jewish organization.
"The Americans believe in this voluntary system of federation boards," explains Hirsch, while "the WZO deals in elections and politicking."
Jewish Agency officials remain adamant that this has nothing to do with Sharansky’s legitimacy as a candidate and has everything to do with the Americans’ reform plans and that they have not moved along fast enough to replace Ze’ev Bielski, the former Jewish Agency chairman who left the organization in February to take a seat in the Knesset.
The agency would not comment officially. But… “There is a problem,” a source close to the Jewish Agency told the Fundermentalist. “The problem is that two things are happening concurrently. There was an attempt to overhaul the governance. It was not an attempt to undermine the WZO. It was meant to make the procedures more effective. That is something that has been going on for a year, In meantime we need a new chairman."