Emerging coalition to back Elazar Stern as head of Jewish Agency, sources say

Yesh Atid and Yamina have agreed to appoint Yesh Atid MK and former IDF General Elazar Stern as the next government’s candidate to replace Isaac Herzog as president of the Jewish Agency when the latter becomes president of Israel next month, a learned from The Times of Israel.

According to political sources with first-hand knowledge of the coalition negotiations, the two parties agreed to include a clause in the agreement between them stating that the candidate for the head of the Jewish Agency will be chosen by the two appointed prime ministers, the president of Yamina Naftali. Bennett and Yesh Atid run Yair Lapid, who is expected to become foreign minister in the new government.

While Stern will not be named in the coalition agreements, which must be released before the new government is sworn in, the two leaders have agreed to back his candidacy and lobby on his behalf on the nominating body of the l Jewish Agency, the sources said, adding that Stern had been contacted directly by Yamina and told her he would be chosen.

Yesh Atid and Yamina declined to comment on Stern’s candidacy, saying they would not discuss details of the coalition deals that will be released in the coming days.

Contacted by The Times of Israel, Stern said he did not know what was in the coalition deals but “understood” that he was “being talked about for the job”.

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Yair Lapid (right) and Yesh Atid’s new recruit MP Elazar Stern at a press conference in Tel Aviv on January 18, 2015 (Photo credit: Ben Kelmer / FLASH90)

Traditionally, the prime minister suggests a candidate for the head of the quasi-governmental organization – the largest Jewish nonprofit organization in the world – and the candidate is approved by the agency’s nominating committee and then by its board of directors.

The nominating committee is chaired by the president of the World Zionist Organization Yaakov Hagoel and includes four other members of the WZO, three representatives of the Jewish federations of North America, including the chairman of the board of governors Michael Siegal, and two representatives by Keren Hayesod – United Israel Appeal.

Although the selection committee is not obliged to vote for the prime minister’s preferred candidate, it has only once rejected the choice of the prime minister of Israel – in 2018, when Netanyahu introduced Likud Minister Yuval Steinitz as a candidate at the last minute before a vote on Herzog, then the only person in the race.

Besides Stern, the candidates proposed to replace Herzog include Steinitz of Likud, the current Minister of Energy; the Minister of Diaspora Affairs, Omer Yankelevich, of the Blue and White party; Labor MP Gilad Kariv, the Knesset’s first reformist rabbi; former ambassadors to the United Nations Danny Danon and Ron Prosor; former New York Consul General Dani Dayan; and former MP Michal Cotler-Wunsh.

Herzog has been chairman of the Jewish Agency since August 2018, succeeding Natan Sharansky, who had been chairman since 2009. Herzog, the former leader of the Zionist Union political party, was elected 11th president of Israel last week, a role he will assume. take June 9.

Isaac Herzog toasts the Knesset after being elected by lawmakers as Israel’s 11th president on June 2, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel / Flash90)

Prior to 1948, the Jewish Agency was the central actor in the creation of the State of Israel and, in the early years of the state, played a pivotal role in its development. Today, he manages key aspects of Jewish immigration to Israel for the state and is the primary recipient of diaspora donations to the Jewish state.

The organization, along with various organizations that co-fund its programs, the largest of which is the Israeli government, spends more than $ 362 million annually in Israel and the Jewish world.

Stern, a former Orthodox IDF general, entered the Knesset in 2013 with the Hatnua party, led by Tzipi Livni. As the 2015 elections approached, he joined Yesh Atid, placing 12th on his list; he narrowly missed entering the Knesset when the party won 11 seats, but became an MP in September of that year when Shai Piron resigned his seat.

Stern would be a comfortable partner for the generally more progressive leaders of the American Jewish institutional world, including liberal Jewish religious currents represented on the Jewish Agency’s board of directors and nominating committee.

As a key voice of liberal orthodoxy in the Knesset, Stern sharply criticized the government’s 2016 decision to suspend a plan to ensure non-Orthodox Jews permanent access to pluralist prayer at the wall, due to the pressure from ultra-Orthodox leaders.

Jewish girls at the pluralist prayer section of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, January 3, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel / Flash90)

As part of the January 2016 deal, which the cabinet approved after four years of negotiations, the government pledged to renovate the so-called Ezrat Yisrael prayer platform. But the agreement also provided for the construction of a common entrance to the Western Wall for three prayer areas – the section of Orthodox men and women and the “Ezrat Yisrael” square, where men and women can worship together – and for representatives of non-Orthodox currents of Judaism to participate in the joint oversight of the pluralist prayer space.

In June of the same year, after some ultra-Orthodox websites began to criticize the deal, the cabinet voted to suspend it, moving away from what was seen as a degree of recognition of unorthodox currents of Judaism. .

The government’s freezing of the deal led to a bitter crisis in relations between Israel and the Diaspora, with many representatives of the global Jewish community saying they felt “betrayed” by the Jewish state. With the Jewish Agency voicing unprecedented criticism of the government on the issue, this fueled the organization’s decision to reject Netanyahu’s choice as president.

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