Herzog takes helm of Jewish Agency

The Jewish Agency has selected Isaac Herzog, leader of Israel’s opposition, to take over as chairman from Natan Sharansky - a move Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was trying to block.

Isaac Herzog.
Isaac Herzog.

THE world’s largest Jewish non-profit has chosen a new leader — the very candidate that Israel’s PM was trying to block.

The Jewish Agency has selected Isaac Herzog, leader of Israel’s opposition, to take over from Natan Sharansky as chairman.

He is the son of Israel’s sixth president Chaim Herzog and grandson of Israel’s first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog.

He fought Benjamin Netanyahu in the last general election, as head of the Zionist Union party. Netanyahu reportedly tried until the last minute to persuade the Jewish Agency to pick a member of his Likud party as its head.

But American community leaders favoured Herzog, an avowed liberal, and they won the day.

They see him as a moderate who wants Israel to compromise with the Palestinians and who will back calls for religious pluralism and more rights for Conservative and Reform Judaism.

Herzog, who is due to visit Australia next week, has already signalled that this pluralism theme will be his signature.

“A Jew is a Jew is a Jew, no matter his denomination or the type of kippah he chooses to wear or not to wear on his head,” Herzog said shortly after being chosen.

“I promise to work hard on promoting Jewish unity and to partner with the Prime Minister and the government to achieve this crucial goal.”

Israeli politicians from left and right rushed to praise the choice, saying that Herzog has what it takes to heal Israel-Diaspora rifts.

“There are few who understand better than Herzog, the challenges facing the Jewish world today,” said President Reuven Rivlin.

The President said that Herzog has a good grasp of “the need to teach and reinforce Jewish identity, and to strengthen the bonds between Israel and Jews around the world.”

These issues, said Rivlin, are ”true obstacles to overcome” and are important “today more than ever.”

Avi Gabbay, chairman of the Zionist Union, called Herzog “the right person” to build Israel-Diaspora bridges and, on the right, Minister for Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett said that Herzog is “one of the few people” to fully understand Israel-Diaspora dynamics, and commented: “Especially now, when the relationship between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry faces significant challenges, I am certain that Herzog will be able to create a true bridge between us and world Jewry.”


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