On Sunday, the board of Governors of the Jewish Agency unanimously approved the appointment of Yitzchak “Buzi” Herzog, the former head of the Zionist Union and leader of the opposition in the Knesset, as chairman for four years in what many see as a serious setback for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Herzog will be replacing Natan Sharansky who has headed the organization since 2009. The Jewish Agency is the largest non-profit Jewish organization in the world and the primary organization for bringing Jews to Israel. It serves as the main link between Israel and Jewish communities around the world.
Herzog ran unsuccessfully against Netanyahu in the last election in a joint campaign with Tzipi Livni, head of the Hatuna party. According to their agreement, Livni and Herzog were supposed to rotate, switching off as head of the opposition. This has not happened yet and it is anticipated that Livni will take over the position when Herzog steps down to take over at the Jewish Agency. Herzog was replaced as the head of the Zionist Union last July by Avy Gabbay who will decide Herzog’s successor as leader of the opposition.
Last Wednesday, Netanyahu met with committee members from the Jewish agency charged with selecting the next head in an attempt to block Herzog’s appointment. Netanyahu requested they meet with his preferred candidate, Yuval Steinitz, a Likud MK and Energy Minister, which they did on Thursday. The appointment of the Jewish Agency chairman required the approval of the Israeli prime minister until recent changes in the agency’s bylaws.
Following the committee’s decision, Netanyahu canceled a meeting of the coordination committee between the government, the Jewish Agency and the WZO, which was scheduled for Monday.