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70 Years of Israel-Diaspora Relations: The Next Generation

The Jewish People celebrates, in 2018, 70 years of sovereignty. There are still many challenges confronting the Jewish state today. But at the same time, Israel can note that 70 years of independence had brought her to unfathomable heights of success beyond any dreams held at its founding.
Diaspora Jewry is also highly successful. The disproportionate number of Nobel laureates, its material assets and cultural and political influence have opened doors that were closed for centuries globally. Paradoxically, with all this success has come a new set of challenges for the unity of the Jewish People. Many are attracted to the largesse of the general society, which may erode the circuitry connecting their present reality to their deeper ancestral roots.

The raison d’etre of JPPI’s annual Dialogue, and of the Institute itself, is to bridge differences between Jewish communities wherever they are and enhance the core principle of mutual responsibility and respect. An open and ongoing discourse is essential to the Jewish future and the significance of the Dialogue is to create such a conversation, with all its complexities. For these reasons the decision to dedicate the 2018 Structured Jewish World Dialogue to 70 years of Israel – Diaspora relations.

The threats of the Middle East are not always fully digested in the Diaspora, and Israelis do not always make sufficient effort to grasp Diaspora life and its challenges. This may encourage distancing processes now and in the future. Israelis are perceived as walking a conservative path, while the majority of Western Jewry, especially in North America, are committed to liberalism. Although the strategic and tactical closeness between the governments of Israel and the United States causes discomfort for many, Israel cannot afford to neglect the positive moves that are taking place, such as the new administration’s approach to the Iranian threat or moving its country’s embassy to Jerusalem.

The Dialogue shows that Jews the world over are not indifferent to Israel’s plight and the vast majority remain committed to the Jewish state. Israel and the Jewish Diaspora are indeed strategic assets for one another. That said, Israel and the Jewish world’s energies should be directed toward enlarging the tent, and better engaging in the discourse those perceived to be distancing themselves due to political and social pressures. At the same time, red lines beyond which mutual respect and responsibility come under assault should be honored.

JPPI’s fifth Dialogue, as in recent years, was headed by Shmuel Rosner (Jerusalem) and Dr. John Ruskay (New York), both are senior fellows of the Institute. Their work culminated in a new road map for future Israel – Diaspora relations. It recommends that:

Israel consult with Jewish leaders “on decisions having to do with culture or religion” and take Diaspora Jews into consideration when formulating Israeli policy with ramifications for world Jewry.

Diaspora communities aspire to interact with all parts of Israeli society, and exercise “appropriate caution with regard to major involvement in the political plane.”

Israel avoid “political criticism of Diaspora Jewry” and define the activities Israel views as beyond the red line of Diaspora legitimate criticism.
The Diaspora take measures to avoid the distancing discourse. JPPI warns that “a discourse that concentrates on distancing may itself generate distancing.”

This year we made a special effort to engage the young generation in the Dialogue. It was launched with participants of joint programs of Israeli and Diaspora youth to stimulate a conversation on what may generate distance as a result of ideological and geographic diffusion, and what could contribute to unity. Dozens of discussion seminars then took place all over the Jewish world.

I would like to express my gratitude to the William Davidson Foundation for their support of the Dialogue endeavor which is encouraging a deeper mutual understanding among Jews globally. I especially appreciate the effort made not only by the project heads, Rosner and Ruskay, but also for the significant assistance of JPPI staff members Dan Feferman, Dr. Dov Maimon, Prof. Uzi Rebhun, Adar Schieber, and Noah Slepkov.

Next year’s Dialogue will be dedicated to a discussion of the growing responsibility of the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities for the Jewish future in light of the demographic developments underway.
Avinoam Bar-Yosef