Communal leaders join Israel's global debate on diaspora

By Marcus Dysch, February 14, 2014
Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub addresses the consultation (Photo: JLC/Twitter)

Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub addresses the consultation (Photo: JLC/Twitter)

Israel must be more open, must value voices of dissent and promote minority rights, according to Liberal Jews in Britain.

They also argued that diaspora communities should provide greater financial investments in Israel’s non-Jewish communities.

The comments from the Liberal Judaism movement were made in response to an Israeli government consultation on the country’s relationship with the diaspora.

The consultation is aimed at providing recommendations to Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

She is overseeing the Knesset’s work to define more clearly the country’s Jewish and democratic credentials.

Mrs Livni has asked global Jewry to discuss four key points, relating to Israel’s core Jewish values, its democratic values, whether the country can ever prioritise one over the other, and whether there should be an “explicit expression of the special relationship” between Israel and the diaspora.

She is considering introducing legislation relating to Israel’s joint Jewish-democratic character. The Jewish People Policy Institute — an independent think-tank which tackles issues of key concern to global Jewry — is co-ordinating the global response.

In what it called an “uncompromising” statement, Liberal Judaism said Israel must “promote equality, act morally and ethically and commit to social action.

“Israel’s founders recognised the value of the dissenting voice, challenging accepted ‘wisdoms’ and conventional practice, as a spur to innovation and development. To seek to limit dissent, therefore, to those that choose to make their homes in the land of Israel, is to miss an opportunity to strengthen the state.”

Israel must “demonstrably value the input of the diaspora and uphold the values on which the country was founded,” it concluded.

The remarks came as dozens of Jewish community organisations met at a special event in north-west London on Sunday to discuss the consultation and put forward their own views.

More than 50 people attended what was thought to be the largest cross-communal conference of recent years.

There were representatives from across the religious and political divide, including leaders from the Jewish Leadership Council, Board of Deputies, Community Security Trust, UJIA, Yachad, Union of Jewish Students, Bicom, United Synagogue, Liberal Judaism, New Israel Fund, Limmud, Zionist Federation and Shaare Zedek UK.

Among those joining in a personal capacity were rabbis Naftali Brawer and Avraham Pinter.

Daniel Taub, Israel’s ambassador to Britain, gave an opening speech and was joined at the session by his deputy, Eitan Na’eh.

The conference was co-ordinated by the JLC and included a general plenary session discussing Israel and the diaspora. It was followed by workshops looking at issues such as the role of Shabbat in Israel, state symbols, including the county’s flag and national anthem, and the law of return.

Simon Johnson, JLC interim chief executive, said: “It was a very good turnout.

“There was a good deal of very significantly-situated people from across the community contributing their views to this important consultation.

“We wanted to bring people together and we were very pleased.”

Written submissions received by the JLC from a range of communal organisations will now be sent on to the Jewish People Policy Institute, together with a full report of Sunday’s discussions.

Mr Taub said the dialogue was “unprecedented” and urged participants to use the opportunity to “deepen their relationship with Israel”.

He also encouraged the organisations to consider how their vision for Israeli society could be adapted for Britain’s Jewish community, “particularly in terms of cross-communal co-operation and education”.

Last updated: 10:25am, February 14 2014