How much influence do Jews wield in the world, and how influential are those on our list? We leave you to judge.
1. Binyamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister of Israel
Serving his second year in his second term, Netanyahu, 60, is the first premier to have been born after the state’s creation. Netanyahu has arguably gone further than any of his predecessors in easing the plight of Palestinians in the West Bank and freezing settlement construction. In his seminal Bar-Ilan University speech last year, the Likud leader accepted the idea of a Palestinian state for the first time, and is currently overseeing proximity talks with the Palestinians that he hopes to galvanize toward a final settlement to the Middle East conflict.
Netanyahu’s ratings soared this month as Israel was accepted to be a member of the OECD.
The fact that the Prime Minister of the State of Israel is viewed today as being the world’s most influential Jew demonstrates the historic change that Zionism has brought about in the condition of the Jewish people.
A scattered, powerless people has been able to reassert its national life in its own sovereign state, in its ancestral homeland. From being mere spectators on the international stage, today the Jews control their own destiny and have returned as a people to the family of nations. Free, democratic and able to defend itself against threats and adversity, Israel doesn’t just survive, it flourishes. Today, within the State of Israel, the creativity and genius of the Jewish people are bursting forth in every area: in science; in technology; in entrepreneurship; in medicine; in the arts.
When Israel was established in 1948, only some 5% of the world’s Jewish population lived in the new state. Today, Israel contains the largest Jewish community in the world.
This honor awarded to the Prime Minister of the Jewish State is a testament to the profound transformation that has occurred in the reality of life for the Jewish People over the last 62 years.
2. Ben Bernanke
The chairman of the US Federal Reserve.
In announcing his second term until 2014, President Obama said Bernanke’s background, temperament, courage and creativity helped prevent another Great Depression. Time named him person of the year last year. Bernanke, 56, wrote his doctoral thesis at MIT in 1979 on “Long-term commitments, dynamic optimization, and the business cycle” and his thesis adviser was none other than Stanley Fischer, the current governor of the Bank of Israel.
3. Rahm Emanuel
White House chief of staff.
Emanuel is believed by some critics to be a key player in Barack Obama’s more critical stance on Israel – an adviser with the expertise to strongly influence the president. He is believed by others to be a crucial bulwark, limiting Washington-Jerusalem frictions.
His father, an Israeli doctor, caused a stir by telling Ma’ariv after his appointment by President Obama: “Obviously, he’ll influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn’t he? What is he, an Arab?” Known as a tough guy, Emanuel flew to Israel as a volunteer during the first Iraq war and is said to be the model for Josh Lyman on the popular TV series, “The West Wing.”
4. Sergey Brin
Founder of Google
Together with Larry Page, whose maternal grandmother was Jewish, the Russian-born Brin founded Google, the world’s largest Internet company, and they are often referred to as the “Google Guys.” Brin, 36, and Page, 37, met at Stanford, where they suspended their doctoral studies to start up Google in a rented garage.
The Economist calls Brin an “Enlightenment Man” who believes that “knowledge is always good, and certainly always better than ignorance” and in the Google mantra, “Don’t be evil!” (Board chairman Eric Schmidt famously quipped that “Evil is whatever Sergey says is evil.”) The duo have visited Israel several times, once for the 80th birthday of Shimon Peres.
5. Shai Agassi
Founder of Better Place
Agassi, 42, has become a pioneer in alternative energy under the auspices of the company he founded in 2007.
After being endorsed by the Israeli government in 2008, Better Place has negotiated contracts on electric cars with more than two dozen countries. The Israeli entrepeneur was named by Time as the world’s most influential businessman in 2003 and one of its 100 most influential people last year.
6. Dominique Strauss-Kahn
Head of the International Monetary Fund
Strauss-Kahn, 61, was professor of economics at the University of Paris, where he obtained his doctorate, and became a member of parliament for the Socialist Party in 1986. He was chosen as managing director of the International Monetary Fund in 2007 and is expected to run for president of France in 2012.
The IMF played a key role in the recent European decision to pass a trillion-dollar plan to aid Greece.
7. Shimon Peres
President of Israel
Peres, who is 86, arguably wields more power and prestige than any of his predecessors. After a career marked by controversy and confrontation, in which he gained the reputation of being a serial loser, Peres has finally emerged as a consensus figure admired not only by the outside world but by the majority of Israelis too.
He maintains a more than correct relationship with the prime minister, who appreciates the international credibility and access offered by the Nobel peace laureate, even as he asserts a greater Palestinian willingness for compromise than Binyamin Netanyahu believes exists.
“I would like to discover ways to enter the New Age while being Jewish and modern at the same time. Traveling is not such a big deal today, and I imagine that many of the Jewish people who do not live in Israel can develop a way of life which they can share in two places. I would like to see a Jewish lifestyle which on the one hand is as old as the Ten Commandments and on the other is as modern as nanotechnology.”
8. David Axelrod
Senior White House Adviser
Barack Obama’s top political adviser helps the president craft and communicate his policy, and calmed tempers during the latest spat between the US and Israel.
Before entering the White House, Axelrod, 55, was a political writer for the Chicago Tribune and founded AKP&D Message and Media. He managed Obama’s presidential campaigns in 2004 and 2008.
In an Israel Independence Day address in Washington this year, Axelrod said: “Let’s not confuse the occasional dispute over policy with the fundamental relationship that has guided our two nations for so long and will continue to guide our two nations.”
“My father was a Jewish immigrant who fled the pogroms and came to America in search of freedom and opportunity. I carry the memory of my family’s miraculous journey with me every day.”
9. Alan Dershowitz
Law professor, Israel advocate
Dershowitz, 71, is an internationally respected jurist who has served as an attorney in several high-profile cases, including that of OJ Simpson. At 28, he became the youngest law professor in Harvard’s history. Married to a psychologist from Israel, Dershowitz has become famous for his eloquent advocacy for Israel and commentary on the Middle East conflict.
My career has generally been reactive to where I think the great crises of human rights are, and the unfair attacks. So in the 60s I was very active in the civil rights movement. I went down south. I spent my time defending lots of African Americans and other discriminated-against groups. Then in the late 60s and 70s I was very active in the anti-war, ant-Vietnam movement, defending lots of people who were prosecuted for their views on Vietnam – the Pentagon Papers case, the Chicago Seven case, those cases. In the mid-70s, I turned my attention to Soviet dissidents and Soviet Jews, because they were the ones who were mostly in need. And then when the world started to really turn against Israel, and particularly when the hard left started to turn so heavily against Israel, it was perfectly consistent with my career and my commitment to human rights to turn to Israel. The case against Israel has increased both in the court of public opinion and real courts. So I suspect I will be spending more and more time in Israel.
10. Elena Kagan
US Supreme Court nominee
Kagan, 50, is the first woman to be solicitor general of the US, and has just been named as Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, where she would become the third woman and third Jew to sit on the court. Kagan, a liberal Democrat, was formerly the dean of the prestigious Harvard Law School and a professor at the University of Chicago, as well as serving as associate White House counsel under Bill Clinton.
A Democrat and supporter of Obama, she is capable of swinging the court to the left, while making key judicial decisions on the freedom of religion and choice.
11. Alan Solow
Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
Solow, 55, is a charismatic Jewish leader, top Chicago lawyer and friend of President Barack Obama.
Tablet Magazine calls him “the Go-Between” – the putative spokesman for American Jewry played a key role in resolving the recent crisis between the US and Israel.
“This recognition by he Jerusalem Post in reality reflects the critical role played by the Conference, especially during a time period when we have seen transitions in the leadership of both the United States and Israel. Our goal as always, whether working publicly or in private (and we do both), is to promote the strongest possible relationship between two democratic allies. We have also been extremely active in raising public awareness and urging swift action to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability. To the extent that my work has made a contribution to these efforts, I am delighted. In my capacity as Conference Chair, I often interact with senior American and Israeli officials, and I have had the opportunity to meet with President Obama and advocate directly to him. I am pleased to report that our access to government officials in the United States and Israel is excellent.
It is certainly humbling to be included in such outstanding company. Moving forward, we will work relentlessly to make certain that a clear Jewish voice is heard where policy is made and implemented.”
12. Ehud Barak
Barak, 68, in his second term, has proved to be an adept diplomat and master strategist. He is involved not only in safeguarding Israel from its enemies, including Iran, but in the diplomatic process with the Palestinians and Arab states as well. He is arguably the most senior Israeli minister with whom the Obama administration is most comfortable, being perceived as relatively dovish, capable, worldly and calm.
13. Irwin Cotler
Canadian MP, human rights activist
Cotler, 70, is a member of the Canadian Parliament for the Liberal Party and a former justice minister and attorney general. He was previously a professor of law at McGill University and the director of its Human Rights Program, becoming an expert in international and human rights law.
A staunch defender of Israel from a human rights vantage point, and a very frequent visitor here, he is widely credited with having influenced Canada’s current supportive stance on the Jewish state.
14. Michael Bloomberg
Mayor of New York
Bloomberg, 68, founder of the Bloomberg media company, successfully campaigned to change the law and win a third term as mayor last year. As mayor, he is currently having to deal with an apparent renewal of terrorism in the city. Listed by Forbes as the eighth richest person in the US, Bloomberg declines to receive a city salary, accepting remuneration of $1 annually for his services.
15. Bernard Kouchner
Foreign Minister, France
Although he is currently serving in a right-wing government, the French foreign minister was previously considered a center-left politician. Kouchner, 70, was a co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).
At the forefront of the international struggle against Iran’s nuclear program, he once stated that while France was committed to a diplomatic resolution and that no military action was planned, an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose “a real danger for the whole world.”
16. Gabi Ashkenazi
IDF Chief of General Staff
The 56-year-old IDF chief is credited with restoring pride in the military and has a good relationship with his US counterpart, Michael Mullen, who awarded him the prestigious Legion of Merit.
He emphasized a quiet back-to-basics approach in the IDF that saw it fight far more effectively in Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in 2008-9 than it had in the Second Lebanon War against Hizbullah in 2006.
17. Stanley Fischer
Bank of Israel Governor
The 66-year-old Bank of Israel governor, who began a second five-year term this year, is credited with stabilizing Israel’s economy during the international financial crisis. He has also maintained a relationship
with his former protégé, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, that has helped enable Palestinian economic growth of some 10 percent in the
West Bank over the past year.
18. Avigdor Lieberman
The Soviet-born foreign minister, 51, is a key player in Middle East peace negotiations. As the founder and leader of the Israel Beiteinu Party, he believes that all Israeli citizens should have to sign a loyalty oath.
He is currently being investigated by police for alleged corruption, but has a huge political following, especially among FSU immigrants and on the Right.
19. Sheldon Adelson
Entrepreneur and philanthropist
The wealthy American casino king, 76, is a big supporter of the Republican Party and Israel, and has been a key philanthropic funder behind Yad Vashem, Birthright and other causes. The owner of Israel’s biggest free daily, Yisrael Hayom, which, while derided by critics of the prime minister as a “Bibiton” – a slavishly pro-Netanyahu publication – has diversified and revolutionized the Hebrew tabloid market.
20. Dorit Beinisch
Supreme Court President
Beinisch, 68, is the first woman to serve as president of the Supreme Court. In her judicial rulings, Beinisch has focused on combating government corruption and ensuring that state institutions and security services follow the law. In a landmark ruling ten years ago, she said corporal punishment by parents is “forbidden,” because it infringes on the child’s rights and harms his dignity as a human being.
21. Natan Sharansky
Jewish Agency Chairman
As chairman of the Jewish Agency, the 62-year-old former prisoner of Zion now heads the largest Jewish NGO in the world. After trying his hand in politics, forming the Israel Ba’aliya political party and serving as a cabinet minister, Sharansky is currently spearheading a campaign to reform the Jewish Agency and focus on Jewish identity. He is also introducing a plan to hand out Jewish Nobel prizes.
22. Ruth Bader Ginsburg
US Supreme Court Justice
Bader Ginsburg, 67, is the first Jewish woman to be a jusice of the US Supreme Court, and the second woman. An associate justice, she is considered part of the liberal wing of the court. In her previous career as a law professor, she became an outspoken advocate for women’s rights. In a 2009 New York Times interview, in which she said regarding abortion that “the basic thing is that the government has no business making that choice for a woman.”
23. Mark Zuckerberg
The 26-year-old American entrepreneur who five years ago co-founded the massively popular social networking site, Facebook with three other Harvard students, one of whom, Dustin Moskovitz was also Jewish. Three years ago, Microsoft (whose CEO, Steve Ballmer, is also Jewish) bought a 1.6% stake to Microsoft Corp. for $240 million. A film about Facebook is due to be released this year.
24. Moshe Kantor
The president of the European Jewish Congress, Kantor this month opened the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University. The center will study existing legislation on anti-Semitism in Europe and draft an “ideal law” for combating the growing phenomenon.
“I am honored to be in a position where I can advocate for European Jewish interests and the State of Israel amongst senior political, religious and influential figures in Europe and beyond. This is a testament to the re-ascendancy of European Jewry on the Diaspora world stage. It is my firm belief that the influence and significance of European Jewry will only continue to rise, as will its role of support for the state, people and government of Israel in a continent where understanding of the challenges that Israel faces is sometimes lacking. Also, because of our history, I am convinced that Jews need to play a more prominent role in achieving greater tolerance in Europe. As the President of the European Jewish Congress and Chairman of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation, an organization of elder European statesmen, I assist in preparing practical recommendations for governments and international organisations to improve interreligious and interethnic relations on the continent.”
25. Michael Steinhardt
Investor and philanthropist
The 59-year-old New York investor is a big political donor in the US, giving to both the Democrats and Republicans. Steinhardt, who owns a home in Jerusalem, is better known here for sponsoring the Birthright Israel program together with Charles Bronfman.
I am honored, and I hope in the coming years I can merit this honor. I have devoted so much of my life, especially over the last 15 years, to the Jewish future and I think I’m stuck with that preoccupation for the foreseeable future.
26. Mortimer Zuckerman
Zuckerman, 72, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, is the owner of the New York Daily News and U.S. News & World Report and co-founder of Boston Properties. He is a strong supporter of Israel and Jewish causes.
27. Ronald Lauder
President of the World Jewish Congress and son of Esthee Lauder, the 66-year-old Lauder, is a wealthy businessman who is a strong support of the Republican Party in the US and the Likud in Israel. In the past, he has mediated contacts between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Syrian President Assad. Last month published an open letter to President Obama urging the administration to “end our public feud with Israel.”
28. Larry Ellison
The 65-year-old magnate who founded and is CEO of the world’s second largest software company, Oracle, is listed by The Marker as the world’s richest Jew, and by Forbes as the sixth richest person in the world.
On a visit to Israel three years ago, he praised the country’s intellectual talent and hi-tech achievements, and related how excited he had been to watch Israeli jets fly over Auschwitz – signalling that the Holocaust would never happen again.
29. Ruth Arnon
Prof. Arnon, currently the Paul Ehrlich Professor of Immunology at the Weizmann Institute of Science and vice president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, is a veteran biochemist and codeveloper of the multiple sclerosis drug, Copaxone. It is one of the few medications invented in Israel, and is manufactured and sold by Teva, the world’s largest generic medicine company.
30. Elie Wiesel
Wiesel, now 81, is the world’s most famous living Holocaust survivor, having written 57 books and won a Nobel Prize. In April, Wiesel took out full-page ads in US newspapers defending the Jewish rights to Jerusalem, and later dined with President Obama in an attempt to defuse the tension they caused.
31. Steven Spielberg
America’s most famous film maker, who is now 63, has won three Academy awards, including the epic Schindler’s List about how German businessman Oskar Schindler saved over 1,000 Jews during the Second World War. He has also established a historically important Holocaust film and video archive.
32. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Chief Rabbi, UK
The chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth was knighted in 2005, and is well respected in the UK as an articulate leader and spokesman of the Jewish community. He has also written several best-selling books, one of which – The Dignity of Difference – was awarded the Grawemeyer Award for Religion.
33. Jeff Zucker
CEO of NBC Universal
President and CEO of NBC Universal, the premier television network in the US for the past three years. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote that in Hollywood “there has been a single topic of discussion: How does Jeff Zucker keep rising and rising while the fortunes of NBC keep falling and falling?” Many of Hollywood’s honchos are Jewish, including executives from CBS, Walt Disney, Warner Brothers, News Corp., Sony Pictures Chairman and CBS, whose CEO, Leslie Moonves is a great-nephew of David Ben-Gurion.
34. Joseph Lieberman
The Connecticut senator still commands respect in Washington as a straight shooter and an ardent supporter of Israel. Despite backing John McCain in the 2008 elections, Lieberman maintained his chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, apparently with the support of President Obama.
35. Eric Cantor
The Virginia representative is currently serving as Republican whip, and is the only Jewish Republican in Congress. An ardent backer of Israel, he has co-sponsored legislation to cut off all US taxpayer aid to the Palestinian Authority unless it stops unauthorized excavations on the Temple Mount.
36. Lee Rosenberg
President of AIPAC
Rosenberg, 53, is a leading Chicago venture capitalist with long-standing ties to Barack Obama. A jazz veteran and venture capitalist, he this year became president of the most influential pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Rosenberg, according to more than a dozen friends, is a master at building relationships with powerful people.
Rosenberg accompanied Barack Obama during his trip to Israel before becoming president and helped him during his presidential campaign, but didn’t refrain from reprimanding the US for its treatment of Israel during the recent dispute over east Jerusalem housing.
37. Richard Goldstone
Goldstone, an internationally renowned jurist and former South African judge, created a storm of protest in the Jewish world after his report last year as head of the UN Human Rights Council mission on the Gaza conflict in which he charged Israel (and Hamas) with alleged war crimes.
This year, he again became the subject of controversy after Yediot Aharonot published a report showing that, as an appellate judge in apartheid South Africa, he sanctioned death sentences against 28 black men.
Today, Goldstone is a board member of several NGOs that promote justice and human rights, including Human Rights Watch, and is a trustee of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
38. Thomas Friedman
Friedman is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist whose column in The New York Times has a huge readership.
In a column this year in the midst of the US-Israel spat over east Jerusalem housing, he wrote that while “President Barack Obama was 100 percent right to call out Israel on its settlement expansion… he also needs his own clear strategy to exploit the opportunities inherent in this moment.”
39. Haim Saban
The Israeli American media mogul is one of the largest donors to the Democratic Party, supporting Hillary Clinton in the last election. He is also a staunch backer of Israel, telling The New York Times once: “I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel.”
40. Jeremy Ben-Ami
J Street Executive Director
Ben-Ami is executive director of J Street, a left-wing pro-Israel lobby group in the US which endorses and raises money for federal candidates. After initially being shunned by the government, Ben-Ami recently had a reconciliatory meeting with Ambassador Michael Oren and brought a large delegation to Israel that met President Peres and other leaders.
41. Shari Arison
Bank of Hapoalim owner
The owner of Bank Hapoalim is Israel’s wealthiest citizen and listed by Forbes as the richest woman in the Middle East. Last year, she sponsored a “Good Deeds Day” which inspired Israelis to volunteer to perform mitzvot across the country.
42. Simone Veil
Veil, 83, is a Holocaust survivor who became a respected French lawyer and politician. She previously served as president of the European Parliament and was inducted into the Academie Francaise this year.
43. Irving Moskowitz
US tycoon, settler supporter
The Florida-based tycoon is considered the leading supporter of Jewish construction in east Jerusalem and hands out a prize for Zionism to settler leaders.
44. Gill Marcus
Bank Governor, South Africa
The former ANC activist now serves as governor of the South African Reserve Bank – the first woman to hold the position.
45. Bernard-Henri Lévy
A French philosopher and one of the leaders of the Nouvelle Philosophie movement who said that Jews ought to provide a unique moral voice in the world.
46. Bob Dylan
The veteran singer was cited by the Pulitzer Prize jury for his profound impact on popular music and American culture, “marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” Several of his songs have become anthems for the human rights movement, including “Blowin’ in the wind.”
He made Michael Shapiro’s list in The Jewish 100: A ranking of the Most Influential Jews of all Time.
Dylan has performed five times in Israel, but contrary to press reports, will not be coming here during his European tour this summer.
47. Roman Abramovitch
Investor, Chelsea FC owner
The Russian oligarch who now lives in London and owns the private investment company, Millhouse LLC, got a big boost this year with Chelsea, the English soccer club he owns, winning the Premier League.
48. Sacha Baron Cohen
The British actor who played three crazy journalists, Ali G, Borat (left) and Brüno, has created an international controversy over his comic characters – and become a household name around the globe.
In the much-touted Simpsons’ tour of Israel episode recently aired on television, Baron Cohen plays Jacob, an angry tour guide. When Marge accused him of being pushy, Jacob retorts: “Try living next to Syria… and see how laid back you are!”
49. Lucian Freud
The grandson of Sigmund and brother of Clement, Lucian lives in London and is arguably the most famous and influential living Jewish painter. Freud has painted a series of famous portraits, including those of fellow artists and Queen Elizabeth II.
Two years ago, his portrait, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, was sold by Christie’s for $33.6 million, setting a world record for sale value of a painting by a living artist.
50. Omri Casspi
The first Israeli to play in the NBA, the tall basketball player has emerged as a star for the Sacramento Kings and one of the greatest Jewish sportsmen in history. In January, he set a new career record with 24 points against the Phoenix Suns. Last year, he won fourth place in the FIBA Europe Young Men’s Player of the Year and was named Jerusalem Post sportsman of the year, and this year played in the NBA All-Star Weekend. Soft-spoken and well-mannered, he is liked and respected in the NBA and serves as a goodwill ambassador for Israel abroad.
“It means a lot to be the first Israeli in the NBA. I don’t just represent myself. I represent Israel and the Jewish people in the states. It might be something that comes with it, but I’m really not trying to think about it. I’m trying to play basketball and focus on that. Because at the end of the day I have to give the best I can on the court.”