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Jewish Agency told, take Sharansky or suffer

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NEW YORK (JTA) — An Israeli lawmaker threatened that the Jewish Agency would lose its special relationship with the Israeli government if it does not accept Natan Sharansky as chairman.

Israel’s minister for Diaspora affairs and information, Yuli Edelstein, told the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that if the Jewish Agency for Israel does not accept Sharansky as chairman, the government — which runs hundreds of millions of dollars of programs related to immigration and Zionist education through the agency — could cut its special relationship with the agency.

"If the Jewish Agency wants to become just another NGO, cutting its connections with the Israeli government, that’s their right. The immediate result will be to find more efficient partners to advance our programs and interests in the Diaspora," Edelstein told the Post.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced shortly after taking office this spring that Sharansky was his choice to take over as the top professional at the Jewish Agency — a move that in years past would have made the former Soviet dissident a shoo-in. But American philanthropists and leaders of the North American Jewish federation system, which provides more than $140 million per year to the agency, have been pushing to de-politicize the agency and have full autonomy to choose a leader themselves.

Among other things, supporters of reform have been pushing to put the selection of the chairman in the hands of the Jewish Agency’s board leadership and not in the hands of Israeli politicians. That reform faction has pushed back against Sharanky’s candidacy for the position.

The Jewish Agency’s board of governors is set to meet in Jerusalem on June 23, at which time reform measures were set to be ratified. The Post reports that Sharansky’s nomination will be voted on at those meetings.

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