Former Diaspora Minister Omer Yankelevich, currently running for the position of chairman of the agency, surprisingly says that the agency should lead the relations with world Jewry.
According to her, "A body headed by a political figure lacks broad public consensus. Therefore, the agency has an advantage in this matter."
Until seven months ago, she served as Minister of the Diaspora in the government, and today, Omer Yankelevich is running for the position of chairman of the Jewish Agency. Elections that have been going on for many month now, and still seem difficult to determine who will succeed in getting the nine votes needed to be elected.
In between lies a fascinating story. The Agency and the Ministry of Diaspora are two bodies that are in fact parallel in their endeavors, competing against each other for years. The competition is held both for the premiere status in leading the relationship with Diaspora Jewry, and also for governmental budgets and recognition by world Jewry.
During her time in the Ministry of Diaspora, Yankelevich succeeded in strengthening the ministry's status, raising funds, doubling and tripling the ministry's budget, and establishing several new important projects. Yet now, she wants to move to the other side, the Jewish Agency, the same body that competes with the office she headed.
If she were asked a year ago, as minister, what was her view on the agency, what would she say?
"Naturally, when I was Minister of the Diaspora, I was loyal to where I was back then. This is how I acted in every position to which I was appointed to, including politics. As Minister of the Diaspora, I struggled a lot with the real question of what is the correct division of tasks for the future of the Jewish people and leading the relationship with the Diaspora, and already then I began to form my own conclusions, especially today when I know the other side of the barricade."
And what conclusion has she come to?
"The Israeli government must recognize the agency's centrality in its relations with world Jewry. Instead of restricting cooperation with it - on the contrary, the agency should be made the leading factor. The agency should be the central arm of the Israeli government when it comes to Diaspora Jewry. "
What is the advantage of the agency over the Ministry of Diaspora?
"The Ministry of Diaspora has amazing and experienced professionals who promote very important issues. They must continue to promote them. But we must also understand the limitations. The situation of an active politician who heads the ministry - no matter which side it is - creates distance from supporters of the other side."
She adds: "As minister, I tried my best to stay away from our local politics, but I also saw how difficult it is to be a politician and not take sides in a clash. The fact that the minister is an active politician, makes it difficult for them to serve as a Jewish consensus in the Diaspora."
And why is it different in the agency, since even there they are usually politicians?
"The agency is a national body but not a government body, the chairman is not politically active, assuming of course that he is not a controversial figure in his own right," she says. "Therefore, in my opinion, the agency has an advantage in leading the relationship with the Diaspora."
It's not just a question of who's in charge, there are also the professionals ...
''In recent months, I met with several officials from national bodies. I am familiar with the activities of the agency, the CEO Amira, and the strategic plan they have prepared. There is an exceptional team there, they are highly qualified for the task. I listened and learned alot, therefore my conclusion is that the Israeli government must also listen to them. The government should remove barriers standing in their path, and increase their budget in a significant way. "
So should the Ministry of Diaspora be closed?
"God forbid. On the contrary. The tasks of the Ministry of Diaspora must be properly characterized in such a way that it does not create duplication and competition with the various national institutions and organizations. The status of the Jewish people creates enough tasks and challenges for everyone and the Ministry of Diaspora does sacred work. On the other hand, the government must invest more in national bodies such as the Agency, the Keren Hayesod, the federations and philanthropic organizations. Not compete with them, but to help them. "
Yair Lapid is known for endorsing Ruth Calderon for the position. If in the end she is not elected, and you will be the one they choose, how will you get along with him?
"Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid get along well. Both parties work together in the government. I also worked well together with Lapid when we were in a joint party and the connection is maintained to this day. I have an excellent connections with all parties. I am not identified by right or left, but by working and connecting with people who are both left and right, according to our shared goal amd mission. "