23 June 2009

The Jewish Agency

To the best of my knowledge, there seems to be a big confrontation brewing among American and European Jewish leaders and leaders in Israel over the new leadership for the Jewish Agency, the pre-state "government" of the Zionist project that never adequately figured out what it's role should be once the State of Israel was established in 1948.

Michael Steinhardt's essay in the Jerusalem Post makes the case for electing former Russian dissident and Israeli politician Natan Sharansky as Jewish Agency head. Steinhardt employs a bizarre historic analogy--that of the Romans laying seige to Jerusalem 2000 years ago--to argue that only Sharansky can "unify" the Jewish people.

"When Rome laid siege to Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago, the inhabitants of the city were starving. Every contemporary account of the suffering, tells a story grisly enough to both sicken and sadden us. The ravages of hunger reduced once proud men and women to cannibalism. Our people eventually capitulated, and the Romans sacked the city, burned the Temple and exiled the inhabitants."

This despite the fact that most historic accounts credit the Rabbis with saving Judaism, most significant Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai's diplomatic maneuvers with the Romans to create the space for a Jewish enterprise without a physical center. Steinhardt seems to be arguing that Sharansky, whose career as a dissident in Russia is heroic but whose accomplishments in Israeli politics are without distinction, is our Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai. The argument fails to persuade.

Sharansky was named in April as Netanyahu's nominee.

Beneath the surface is a broader fight over who will control money that the Agency is charged with doling out.

This article illuminates things as well.

Jacob Berkman's summary is helpful, too. This issue completely falls off the radar screen of most American Jews even though millions of dollars are at stake.



1 comment:

Jewish Philanthropy News and Views said...

Here's the very latest of what's happening - direct and on the scene in Jerusalem.

More coming.