Article Library / Structured Jewish World Dialogue

70 Years of Israel-Diaspora Relations: the Next Generation

Project heads: Shmuel Rosner, John Ruskay
Contributors: Noah Slepkov, Dov Maimon, Dan Feferman, Uzi Rebhun, Adar Schieber
Editors: Rami Tal and Barry Geltman

Main findings:

The findings reflect what emerged in the course of this year’s Dialogue process – a framework in which engaged Jews, often occupying positions of leadership in the Diaspora communities, are predominantly represented.

  • Israel is perceived as the driving force of the Jewish people and, accordingly, is felt to bear an outsized share of responsibility for the Jewish people’s fate.
  • Diaspora and Israeli Jews agree that all Jews have a “stake” in the State of Israel and, therefore, the right and duty to help sustain it.
  • Diaspora Jews expect Israel to provide cultural and ideological inspiration. Practical assistance in the ongoing management of community life is expected to a much lesser extent.
  • Alongside their duty vis-à-vis the State of Israel, Jews expect Israel to listen to them and show them consideration. Most expect particular consideration on issues related to the state’s “Jewishness.” Regarding policy on other issues, notably security, their expectations of input are lower.
  • Israeli Jews are willing to take Diaspora positions into account on matters of religion and state, but not on issues of security or foreign policy.
  • The “distancing” discourse is gaining currency; today’s prevailing opinion, particularly in the Diaspora, is that Israel and Diaspora Jewry are growing farther apart. Surprisingly, this view is more common among older Jews than among younger Jews.
  • Diaspora Jews are disappointed with the level of attentiveness and consideration they receive from the Israeli government. The disappointment centers around, but is not limited to, the Western Wall crisis (for unaffiliated Jews, Israel’s lack of attentiveness increases the degree of alienation).
  • Nevertheless, the relationship with Israel is still a significant and irreplaceable element for affiliated Diaspora Jews.

Policy recommendations:

Israel-Diaspora relations roadmap, 2018
In all of this year’s Dialogue discussions, participants were given a chart to review, with the aim of outlining principles and points of consensus on major issues that stand between Israel and the Diaspora. The discussions related to the chart were preceded by a brief review of the Ben-Gurion-Blaustein Agreement (dating from early 1950, it laid a groundwork for Israel-Diaspora relations), and participants were asked to update various sections of the agreement, in keeping with their understanding of 21st century realities.

For some groups the chart-completion process was lengthy and meticulous, for others it was quicker. However, the entire array of conversations, and the insights raised during other portions of the discussion, together with the information obtained via the participant survey were sufficient to allow a basic framework for major principles of Israel-Diaspora relations to emerge, as understood by the Dialogue participants, and as formulated by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI). Naturally, such a framework cannot consistently reflect the specific positions of each individual participant or reader; rather, it addresses Israel-Diaspora relations more broadly. In our view, this framework does reflect a reasonable consensus shared by a substantial group of Jews who took part in the Dialogue and devoted thought and effort to the formulation of an appropriate model for relations. We recommend that the Israeli government, Israeli social organizations, and major Diaspora Jewish institutions look upon this framework as a roadmap for managing the relationship. In addition to the framing chart, we have included a short section detailing additional recommendations specifically directed toward Israeli and Diaspora leaders, based on the Dialogue discussions and on JPPI’s subsequent analysis.

Section Recommendations for Israeli Conduct and Objectives Recommendations for Diaspora Conduct and Objectives
Primary obligation Maintaining and developing a secure refuge for Jews, in a country that also provides cultural and moral inspiration to the entire Jewish world. Maintaining a thriving, vibrant Jewry that also plays a meaningful role in the relationship with Israel.
Mutual support Practical (political and economic) support for communities in distress or crisis; aspiring to participate in joint projects with Diaspora Jewry (including MASA programs). Support for Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; backing for Israel vis-à-vis de-legitimization movements; economic and cultural investment in Israel’s development.
Policymaking involvement Honoring the decisions of Diaspora Jewish communities; allowing the communities to manage their own lives; taking them into consideration when formulating Israeli policy on issues of culture, religion, education and values; conducting dialogue on other policy issues as well, especially when they impact Diaspora communities Helping to outline a policy direction for Israel on issues of culture, religion, education and values; honoring the rules of the democratic game as played in Israel; displaying appropriate caution with regard to major involvement on the political plane
Dialogue

 

Consulting with Jewish leaders on decisions having to do with culture or religion; displaying sensitivity to the views of Diaspora Jews when shaping Israeli policy as a whole; striving to influence the Jewish communities’ and organizations’ policies on Israel; maintaining respectful dialogue in cases of disagreement. Aspiring to dialogue with all parts of Israeli society; working within Israel to achieve educational and ideological objectives on which a broad consensus exists; holding constructive dialogue on highly controversial intra-Israeli issues; creating an alternative to the distancing discourse.
Political Loyalty Israel and Diaspora Jewry are in agreement that every Jew owes political allegiance to the country of his/her citizenship. The sense of connection, esteem and mutual responsibility shared by Israel and Diaspora Jewry are expressed on other planes.
Criticism Avoiding political criticism of Diaspora Jewry; avoiding and condemning insults directed at Diaspora Jews or expressions of arrogance toward them; defining the type of activity that Israel views as beyond the bounds of legitimate criticism. Participating in critical Israeli discourse on policy related to religion and state; being aware of, and attentive to, Israeli sensitivities in situations where Israel is subject to international criticism, and behaving accordingly; taking into account that public criticism may cause Israeli alienation from Diaspora Jewry.
Who is a Jew? Honoring Diaspora decisions about the identity of Diaspora Jewry; acting in Israel in a way that is respectful of the situation in the Diaspora, and striving to avoid rifts within the Jewish people. Striving, through dialogue and educational means, to ensure understanding of attitudinal gaps and their repercussions; when setting policy in the Diaspora, the potential implications for relations with Israel should be taken into account.
Jewish Pluralism Allowing the broadest possible range of Jewish expression and respecting different positions and streams; taking into account that policy pertaining to the various Jewish streams has a direct impact on relations, both among Jews in Israel and with the rest of world Jewry. Encouraging Jewish pluralism in Israel through social and educational means; fostering awareness of the attitudinal gaps between Israeli and Diaspora Jews, and honoring the composition and character of Israel’s Jewish population.
Aliyah Encouraging Aliyah, but refraining from delegitimizing Diaspora life. Agreeing that Aliyah is an important Zionist-Jewish value, even if it is not the sole aspiration.
Law of Return Uphold the Law of Return; do not change it without a frank and thoroughgoing process of consultation with Diaspora Jewry. The Law of Return has significant implications in terms of entry to Israel; accordingly, its provisions are determined by Israel.

Additional Major Recommendations for Israel:

Israeli resources allocated to the Diaspora should be channeled toward helping communities in distress or crisis. Communities capable of marshaling their own resources should remain responsible for their own affairs.

Diaspora Jewry should be accorded space for meaningful and diverse cultural expression in the Israeli arena. It is the Israeli government’s duty to remove obstacles to creating such a space (in this regard the government would do well, as a first step toward rebuilding trust, to unfreeze the agreed-upon Kotel arrangement, and implement it).

Resources should be directed to reinforcing projects that promote Israeli-Jewish culture – a culture that generates impact, provides inspiration, and fosters Israeli-Diaspora connections. Cultural activity of this kind should be goal-oriented, and its impact should be measured via professional follow-up analysis and assessment instruments.

Israel and its institutions have an obligation to educate the younger generation of Israelis to understand their responsibility for the fate of all Jews, whoever and wherever they may be, and the meaning of this responsibility – including the duty to take into consideration the needs of non-Israeli Jews.

Israel should regularly take measures designed to show solidarity with Diaspora Jewry and the recognition of its importance. Such measures might include naming streets for important Diaspora leaders, regular symbolic participation of dignitaries in major Israeli public ceremonies (for example, lighting the Memorial Day torches), and more.

Additional Major Recommendations for the Diaspora:

Communal Diaspora discourse on Israel should be a productive discourse of partnership, patience and support, and should reflect the recognition that the shaping of Israeli society – and of Israeli-Diaspora relations in the present era – is a process that will take time and be marked by ups and downs.

Publicly goading Israel as a means of organizational, philanthropic or community advancement is damaging to Israel-Diaspora relations and should be avoided.

The Diaspora Jewish communities are faced with the important task of fostering a sense of connection to Israel among the younger generation. They must ensure that the next generation includes Jews who are attached to Israel. Israel can and should aid in this effort to the best of its ability, and act with awareness of the consequences that its behavior sometimes has in terms of Diaspora Jewry’s sense of connection to Israel.

Additional major recommendations for Israel and the Diaspora:

The Israel-Diaspora dialogue should focus on reinforcing shared interests, creating joint projects, and identifying a shared and relevant cultural platform. A discourse that concentrates on distancing will itself produce distancing.

It is incumbent upon Israeli and Diaspora leaders to manage confrontations between them in a measured manner, and to refrain from statements that intensify feelings of alienation between the Diaspora and Israel. Well-managed interaction should be the basis for active participation in meaningful Israel-Diaspora dialogue.

Encounters and dialogue should be initiated between groups of Jews from different streams, and between people of differing opinions. “Liberal New York Jews with Rishon Likudniks and Shilo settlers” (as opposed to “liberal New York Jews with Tel Aviv liberals,” or “Borough Park Orthodox with Kiryat Arba settlers”).