Ex-general Doron Almog named head of Jewish Agency, ending lengthy search

Former IDF general Doron Almog was named Thursday to take the reins of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the group said, ending a nearly year-long search to replace Isaac Herzog, who left Israel. organization to become president of Israel.

Almog, 71, a former head of the Israel Defense Forces Southern Command, was widely seen as a consensus candidate with impeccable credentials, including an Israel Lifetime Achievement Award. Since leaving the military, he has dedicated his life to running a widely acclaimed rehabilitation village for the physically and mentally handicapped in the Negev desert.

“Doron Almog represents all that is beautiful in Israel,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement. “Doron embodies military and civilian prowess, a deep love for the nation of Israel, for the land and for all humans. That’s why I was happy to present him with the Israel Prize for his life’s work.

Numerous attempts to find a replacement for Herzog have failed over the past year as no candidate has been able to secure the nine out of 10 votes needed to secure the selection committee nomination. Almog, who was nominated by the Jewish Federations of North America, was chosen unanimously by the nominating committee, according to a Jewish Agency spokesperson.

Almog’s selection will be submitted to the Jewish Agency’s board of governors for approval at its next meeting next month, which will largely be a formality. He is expected to officially take office in September.

“I am proud and excited about the trust and the election,” Almog said in a statement after his appointment. “Working together, we will ignite the flame and pride of our work for a future of hope for generations to come.”

If approved, Almog will take office in a time of turmoil for the semi-governmental organization, which is responsible for encouraging and facilitating immigration to Israel, in light of the massive wave of migration from Israel. former Soviet Union following the brutal invasion of Ukraine.

As of this week, more than 25,000 people have immigrated to Israel from Ukraine and Russia since then, in the biggest wave of migration in about 30 years, according to the Immigration and Absorption Ministry.

Additionally, the Jewish Agency is in the midst of another massive immigration effort from Ethiopia, with plans to bring several thousand people to Israel in the coming months.

“We are in an important period with an increase in the number of new immigrants from all over the world, and I am convinced that Doron will contribute greatly to the Jewish world and to the realization of the immigration and integration policies of this government,” said the Minister of Immigration and Integration, Pnina. Tamano-Shata said in a statement.

World Zionist Organization chairman Yaakov Hagoel has served as acting chairman of the Jewish Agency for the past year, a post that sometimes conflicted with his other, more political role as head of the Jewish Agency. Global Likud.

“I extend my congratulations to Almog on his appointment, and I am confident that he will lead the Jewish Agency with the same dedication and determination with which his predecessors in this position acted,” Hagoel said in a statement.

Michael Siegal, the outgoing head of the Jewish Agency’s board of governors, praised Almog’s good faith.

“The fact that we got all 10 votes tells you that we did a good job presenting a great candidate,” Siegal told The Times of Israel by phone shortly after Almog’s nomination.

Still, after 17 Ashkenazi male chairmen of the Jewish Agency returned to its founding, many hoped the organization’s next head would bring a touch of diversity to the post.

“Would it have been nicer to have a wife?” Would it have been nicer to have someone younger? Yes. All of that is true, but you have to choose which candidate you have,” Siegal said.

“This man has a distinguished career, he cares about the most vulnerable parts of Israeli society, he has fundraising abilities and he brings a level of credibility to Israeli society. I can’t say anyone else brings those skill levels to the job. It just doesn’t tick the diversity box for today’s society,” he said.

“But I can’t wait for this perfect candidate. They didn’t come on the road for a year. We have Almog who is a great representative of things that interest the Jewish Agency, i.e. Israeli civil society, connecting Jews around the world to Israel and aliyah,” Siegal added, using the Hebrew term for immigration to Israel.

Siegal noted that over the past year, a number of female and Mizrachi nominations were considered, but for one reason or another they were rejected.

“None of the people was a perfect candidate. If they had been, they would have been chosen,” he said.

Somewhat ironically, Siegal noted that Almog was in fact unique among the other candidates and former leaders of the Jewish Agency, who come almost exclusively from the political world.

“Doron Almog is not a politician! Forget the diversity aspect, just that,” Siegal said with a chuckle.

Two other potential candidates who were reportedly considered for the post were Construction Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll. Former diplomat Mark Regev is also believed to be in the running. Over the past year, several names have been announced, including former Yesh Atid Knesset member and Bible scholar Ruth Calderon, former Likud minister Danny Danon and former Blue and White minister Omer Yankelevich, among many others.

Almog said he was only approached for the job three weeks ago.

“I was surprised by the offer three weeks ago. It wasn’t in my plans, but I did an ‘assessment of the situation’ with my wife and we decided to go, d ‘to undertake one more mission for the State of Israel,’ he told Army Radio.

“The Jewish Agency is a strategic asset and the relationship between the State of Israel and the Diaspora is a strategic relationship — half of the [Jewish] people still live there. Our job is to reach every Jew in the world and give them a helping hand,” Almog said.

The selection process for Herzog’s replacement was repeatedly marred by politically motivated leaks from the nominating committee, with the names of candidates and deliberations about them leaked to reporters in an effort to influence proceedings.

“A lot of things on our committee weren’t kept confidential, which is unfortunate,” Siegal said.

He said that prompted the committee to scrutinize information more closely ahead of Thursday’s vote, although a number of names of potential candidates were leaked to various media outlets.

Almog enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces in 1969, serving in the Paratroopers Reconnaissance Company – including during the famous 1976 raid on Entebbe – and rose through the ranks of the military over the three and a half decades later to the position of Chief of Southern Command, retiring in 2003.

After his discharge from the military, Almog established the rehabilitation village, known as Aleh Negev, largely due to his personal experiences caring for his son Eran, who suffered from severe autism and physical disabilities.

Doron Almog puts a medal on an ALEH Jerusalem child at the Jerusalem Marathon. (Courtesy of Aleh)

Almog was at the center of international controversy in 2005 after Palestinian activists in the UK won a court order for his arrest for his role in the demolition of a Palestinian home in the Gaza Strip. , which they claimed amounted to a war crime. .

Almog was made aware of the arrest warrant after he and his wife landed in the UK. To avoid an incident, he stayed on the plane and returned to Israel on board. The arrest warrant was later revoked.

Siegal said Almog should get to work, with immigration surges sparked by wars in Ukraine and Ethiopia high on his agenda.

“And those are just two things that we know about,” he said. “Who knows what the next thing will be?”

Brandon D. James