Row over Sharansky’s Jewish Agency role

Former Prisoner of Zion Nathan Sharansky was expected to be voted chair of the Jewish Agency on Thursday, after an unprecedented row between the Israeli government and American Jewish organisations nearly scuttled his appointment.

Mr Sharansky was PM Netanyahu’s candidate and, in the past, would have been automatically voted in.

However, the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella group of North American Jewish federations which raises two thirds of the Agency’s budget, has long complained that the Agency is too heavily influenced by Israeli politicians, particularly via the World Zionist Organisation (WZO).

The Americans demanded that the Agency sever its ties with the WZO and be run on similar lines to an American non-governmental organisation.

The UJC demanded a vote on the reform in this week’s Board of Governors assembly in Jerusalem and threatened not to approve Mr Sharansky’s appointment. Mr Netanyahu retaliated by cancelling his greeting to the assembly and his Diaspora Affairs Minister, Yuli Edelstein, threatened to sever ties with the Agency.

During a week of intense negotiations, Mr Sharansky assured the Americans that he would push through the reforms and that he was committed to religious pluralism. On Wednesday, the assembly approved the reforms and the Americans promised to support him.

    Last updated: 10:28am, June 25 2009