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

The commitment to the Diaspora within the Nation-State Law, indeed fits the law’s internal logic. Article 1(b) of the Law states:

“The State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People in which it realizes its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.”

If the State of Israel actualizes the right of national self-determination for the Jewish people as a whole, then it stands to reason that Israel should maintain and enhance its connection and commitment to the Jewish people as a whole, including the communities that live outside of Israel.

Questions arise, though, in regard to the Diaspora communities themselves. How do they view this commitment of the Israeli government, especially given all that has occurred in Israel-Diaspora relations in the past three decades? Furthermore, and just as importantly, how do Diaspora Jews view the implementation of such a law? What sorts of activities and programs should arise from it? How should it concretely advance ties between the Diaspora and the State of Israel and preserve the religious, cultural, and historical heritage of the Jewish people among Jewish communities in the Diaspora?

We devoted the main part of the Dialogue sessions to these issues. While Article 6 of the Nation-State Law contains three paragraphs, we did not address paragraph (a), which deals with security issues, leaving that up to the appropriate agencies. The Dialogue sessions focused on ties between the Diaspora and Israel and on preserving the heritage of the Jewish people, that is, Jewish education.

How do Diaspora Jews feel about the increased involvement of the State of Israel?

In completing the survey, all groups gave an overwhelmingly positive response to the question of whether they would welcome increased involvement of the State of Israel in preserving the ties of the Jewish people to the state and preserving its heritage in the Diaspora. Nevertheless, there were differences between the groups. Over 93% of the North American federation groups and the Melbourne group said that they would welcome such involvement. Among the young Israelis, 83% said that they would welcome such involvement. Among the English-speaking MIFT groups of young teachers, 74% said that they would welcome such involvement.

While the survey solicited a yes or no answer, participants in the focus groups gave expanded, more nuanced answers. Some expressed reservations about such involvement as exemplified by this remark from a New York participant: “[It is] Chutzpadik to tell individual communities how to do Jewish education.” A Cleveland participant indicated that he would welcome Israeli support but only as part of a dialogue: “[Israel] can be a bull in a china shop and can cause more damage than help.” Some participants, including educators convened by the Jewish Education Project, expressed suspicion regarding the Israeli agenda and the strings it might attach to such involvement.

The Dialogue pursued two issues in some detail. The first was that of preserving the cultural, historical, and religious heritage of the Jewish people. While this can refer to a wide range of activities, we focused on Jewish education in its broadest sense, including not only schools but also summer camps, Israel trips, and other programs and activities. The second issue involved preserving ties between Israel and Jews in the Diaspora.