Israel-Diaspora Relations

The State of Israel, the Diaspora, and the Nation-State Law

By: Dr. Shlomo Fischer, Dr. John Ruskay

The State of Israel, the Diaspora, and the Nation-State Law

Israel-Diaspora relations have been a subject of discussion and debate among policymakers and engaged Jews in the Diaspora and Israel since the founding of the state. However, these relations have possibly reached a new level of commitment on the part of Israel with the passing of the BASIC LAW: ISRAEL – THE NATION-STATE OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE by the Knesset in July 2018. This law has conferred constitutional status in Israel to these relations. The law, devotes Article Six to these relations:

Article 6. The Connection with the Jewish People

  • The State shall strive to ensure the safety of members of the Jewish People and of its citizens, who are in trouble and in captivity, due to their Jewishness or due to their citizenship.
  • The State shall act, in the Diaspora, to preserve the ties between the State and members of the Jewish People.
  • The State shall act to preserve the cultural, historical and religious heritage of the Jewish People among Jews in the Diaspora.

The aim of the Dialogue was to solicit the views of Diaspora and Israeli Jews and global Jewish leadership concerning the implementation of Article 6 of the Nation-State Law. We asked Diaspora participants whether and how such an implementation could be appropriate for Jewish communities who are citizens of a country other than Israel. We then asked both Diaspora and Israeli Jews whether these commitments of the State of Israel were desirable or practical in a general way, and if so, how they should be put into practice. What is the best way the State of Israel should act to “preserve the ties between the State and members or the Jewish People,” and how should it act “to preserve the cultural, historical and religious heritage of the Jewish People among Jews in the Diaspora?”

The first part of the discussion was devoted to recent changes in Israel-Diaspora relations. The Dialogue sessions were organized in this way to contextualize the discussion of the Nation-State Law commitments in the current reality of these relations. As discussed in numerous books, articles and studies, Israel is today much less dependent upon Diaspora financial support and growing segments of Diaspora Jews today do not fully identify with Israeli government policies in regard to the Palestinian population, territory and peace, and in regard to religious pluralism in Israel.

The new developments in Israel-Diaspora relations, however, are not just the product of relatively recent phenomena such as military conflict in Gaza or the Women of the Wall. They reflect structural and long-term differences between the conditions of Jewish life in the Diaspora and in Israel. This is especially true regarding the American Diaspora, but it applies, to one degree or another, to other Jewish communities in Western democracies.

A number of observers have commented on developments in Israel-Diaspora relations in recent years often deploying the term “distancing.” The purpose of this Dialogue was not to explore the reasons for such alleged distancing – multiple articles and conferences have focused on this – but to explore how they bear on a practical question: whether and how the Government of Israel should advance Jewish education in the Diaspora and ties between the Diaspora communities and the State of Israel.