The Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors unanimously voted on Sunday morning to approve the appointment of opposition leader Isaac Herzog as Natan Sharansky’s replacement as Jewish Agency chairman in a meeting at Jerusalem’s Orient Hotel.
In an emotional acceptance speech, Herzog recalled that as a high school student in New York, he went to protests calling for Sharansky to be freed from his prison cell in the Former Soviet Union.
“We need to do whatever we can to unify the Jewish people make sure the Jewish people are not torn apart,” Herzog said. “A Jew is a Jew is a Jew, and it doesn’t matter what kippa he wears or does not wear and what stream he belongs to. We are one people.”
In his speech, Herzog reached out to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposed his appointment, saying: “We will work together to foster and strengthen the Jewish people.”
Jewish Agency Board of Governors chairman Michael Siegal said he “looked forward to working over the next four years” with Herzog.
World Zionist Organization chairman Avraham Duvdevani said, “There can be no better candidate for agency chairman.” After recounting the process of selecting Sharansky’s replacement that stretched on for a year and a half, Duvdevani said he and other members of the search committee for agency chairman had wanted Herzog all along.
“He has breathed the issues we deal with since his childhood,” Duvdevani said, noting that Herzog was educated abroad, his grandfather Isaac Herzog was chief rabbi, and father Chaim Herzog was president and UN ambassador.
US ambassador to Israel David Friedman told the crowd that Herzog’s appointment was “a fitting and appropriate extension of the public service of the Herzog family and its historical contribution to the Jewish people.
Sharansky will remain in charge of the agency’s emissaries to college campuses. When he came to the podium, he was welcomed with a standing ovation by the young people in the crowd.
Turning to Herzog, Sharansky said he advised him not to enter his shoes, because in the shoe shop “they are in the children’s department.”
Labor and Social Services Minister Haim Katz criticized Netanyahu at Monday’s Likud ministerial meeting for not making more of an effort to get a Likudnik elected agency chairman.
Netanyahu responded by asking all the Likud ministers to not discuss the issue.
President Reuven Rivlin congratulated Herzog on his appointment, saying: “As a member of Knesset, as a minister and as the leader of the Opposition, Bougie worked in the heart of Israel’s democracy for most of his life and served the Israeli people by emulating his father and his grandfather. There are few people who can equal Herzog’s understanding of the challenges that face the Jewish world and the need today more than ever to inform and strengthen Jewish identity as well as the powerful bond between the State of Israel and Jews throughout the world.”
Rivlin also expressed appreciation to Sharansky, whom he described as a contemporary hero of the Jewish People in all his endeavors for them and for the State of Israel.