A rethink of Beth Hatefutsot has been long overdue.
Although it was considered highly innovative when it opened in 1978 — because of the level of interactivity in its exhibits and its didactic approach — it had long become outmoded and outdated, and to most Israelis, irrelevant.
In 2003, after running into severe financial trouble, and temporarily closing, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was forced to declare it a “national asset”.
In 2005, the Knesset passed the Beth Hatefutsot law, which gave it the status of a national institution.Nevertheless, it continued to struggle, and was partially propped up by the personal money of its chairman and former Yukos partner Leonid Nevzlin.
Two contradictory forces contributed to its decline.
Israelis have little interest in the Jewish diaspora, which they generally view as weak, oppressed by antisemitism and old-fashioned.
At the same time, the museum’s attitude to the diaspora was considered condescending by many diapora Jews.
The museum’s new name and attitude is meant to kill both these birds with one stone, giving the diaspora less emphasis, but more respect.
It does seem a shame that a museum dedicated to the Jewish communities in chutz la’aretz — outside of Israel — cannot find a way to make itself attractive to Israelis without sacrificing its central premise.
However, if downgrading the diaspora ultimately leads to more interest in it, so be it.