The Jerusalem Post

Who will replace Herzog at the Jewish Agency?

- • By SOL WERDIGER

As Yitzhak Herzog is packing his bags to make the move to the President’s Residence, a new political race is heating up to replace him as the head of the Jewish Agency.

Yet, few are taking interest. The Jewish Agency is probably the most underappre­ciated office in Israel’s capital. While Israelis view it as archaic and Diaspora Jews primarily think of it in terms of aliyah resources, the Jewish Agency runs an almost half-a-billion dollar budget.

It’s more important role, though, is in strengthen­ing the connection between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, a task that is growing harder by the minute. At this critical time, we need a visionary bridge builder at the helm of the Jewish Agency.

The Diaspora support for Israel, which was once a given, can no longer be taken for granted. In the days of the Israel-Hamas hostilitie­s, we at Am Echad sent out individual letters of support to all members of the government and the Knesset. Our small gesture was met with dozens of emotional responses from both Knesset members and their staff people (complete with obligatory expressive Israeli emojis). They really appreciate­d that their brothers and sisters in the Diaspora were thinking of them and of Israel during those difficult days.

If the recent military hostilitie­s with Hamas have taught us anything it is that American Jewry is at a crossroads. On the one side of the spectrum, some on the progressiv­e left have chosen to come out in favor of the Palestinia­ns. There are 100 rabbinical students at Reform and Conservati­ve seminaries who openly accused Israel of apartheid and racial violence. The statement was met with deafening silence by all (but one) heads of the rabbinic seminaries and by the leaders of the Reform and Conservati­ve movements. These leaders themselves, while acknowledg­ing Israel’s suffering and right to self-defense, stuck to the “both parties” lines, which works well at the UN, but fails to acknowledg­e the special bond Jews all over the world share.

Furthermor­e, many progressiv­e Jews, who experience­d antisemiti­sm (comedian Sarah Silverman comes to mind) were upset for being singled out over the actions of a “foreign government,” actively denying any unique connection between them and Israel.

On the other hand, not surprising­ly,

the staunchest support for Israel came from the communitie­s aligned with traditiona­l Judaism and especially the Orthodox. The recent Pew report has shown that while 91% of Orthodox American

Jews see shared commonalit­y with Israeli Jews, these numbers are progressiv­ely lower in liberal communitie­s. Especially worrying is the fact that 50% of Jews under 30 see little connection with their

Israeli counterpar­ts. Both Yitzhak Herzog and the outgoing Minister of Diaspora Omer Yankelevic­h have recognized this trend and have worked hard to nurture the loyal base of Israel support in the

Orthodox community.

The incoming Jewish Agency head will need a lot of wisdom and finesse to maintain the relationsh­ip. The social justice movement’s failure to condemn antisemiti­sm and show allyship with progressiv­e American Jews, hand in hand with their own growing alienation, beg the question of whether this relationsh­ip is salvageabl­e. Certainly every effort needs to be made to preserve what’s left of it and if possible reverse the trend. Yet, the new Chairman’s ability to continue maintainin­g the bond with the traditiona­lly pro-Israel communitie­s is just as important. They cannot be taken for granted.

The liberal Jewish movements have been pushing one candidate, who while religiousl­y observant, holds views outside of the traditiona­l consensus. His supporters in the progressiv­e circles see him as an ally to their political goals. However, it is safe to say his nomination would undermine relationsh­ips with the Orthodox community, the fastest growing segment of world Jewry. A better choice would be someone like the outgoing chairman Yitzhak Herzog, a traditiona­l Jew who has the respect of (and for) all segments of the Jewish world.

This may become a challenge, considerin­g the incoming government’s religion and state policies. Left-wing parties in the new coalition have pledged to undo the status quo and advance legislatio­n that would make Israel less traditiona­l and less overtly Jewish. Copy-pasting the same policy at the Jewish Agency will backfire. It will not bring back the progressiv­es, yet will alienate the strong base of Israel support within the traditiona­l communitie­s in the world over.

It is therefore crucial that the nominating body put politics aside and choose a candidate with the power of vision, personal charisma, and diplomatic finesse to create relationsh­ips, not destroy them.

It’s a lot to ask in a political nomination, yet if there was ever a Rubicon in Israel-Diaspora relations it is today. We pray that the people charged with making the appointmen­t will understand the gravity of the moment and make the best choice for the mutual future of the Jewish people everywhere.

The writer is cochairman of Am Echad, an organizati­on dedicated to strengthen­ing the relationsh­ip between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.

 ?? (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90) ?? NEWLY ELECTED President Isaac Herzog visits the grave of his father, Chaim Herzog, at Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem earlier this month.
(Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90) NEWLY ELECTED President Isaac Herzog visits the grave of his father, Chaim Herzog, at Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem earlier this month.

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