Israel needs to recognise the danger facing the diaspora - and act

We need a new unified body to coordinate and operate all diaspora related activities

June 14, 2021 17:54

The last operation in Gaza - the fourth in the last thirteen years - saw half of Israelis, from the south to Tel Aviv and even as far as the Sharon region, seeking refuge from thousands of Hamas rockets - reinforced the understanding that Israel is facing a multifaceted campaign that must be urgently addressed.

One well-known campaign is the battlefield on the Gaza border and in the home front, in which IDF soldiers and police shed their blood in defense of the state and its citizens. The other campaign, however, this campaign is unrelated to the IDF but is nonetheless important. While Israelis have the IDF protecting them, diaspora Jews are left alone to contend with the consequences of Israel’s military operations, since Israel does not always understand the need to participate in this campaign.

When I served as CEO of the World Jewish Congress in New York, I would pay close attention to Israel's military operations against Palestinian terrorism. I witnessed how Diaspora Jews were deeply affected by Israel’s ordeal. Whenever Israel found itself under fire, Diasporic Jewish communities were called upon to provide it with a diplomatic shield, fighting alongside the Jewish State on the front lines of Hasbara. As a result, they personally risked direct injury whenever they were walking down a city, street or even just staying at home.

Recently, Diaspora Jews delt with community centers and synagogues becoming targeted by terrorists. Equally worrying is the growing threat of antisemitic incidents worldwide, as well as the unbridled hatred and incitement amplified on social media. Anti-Semitism is both ancient and modern, requiring no justification for its existence.

The war in Gaza helped expose the newest iteration of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism. During the eleven-day war, the Anti-Defamation League documented 200 antisemitic incidents, a 50% increase, compared to the week before. Jews have been brutally attacked on the streets of New York, Los Angeles, London, Berlin, and dozens of other cities worldwide. Britain, alone, witnessed an astonishing 600% rise in anti-Semitism and in London, Palestinian activists shamelessly went so far as to publicly call for the sexual assault of Jewish women.

The time has come for the State of Israel to recognize the danger facing the diaspora. Since the establishment of Israel, as a Jewish, democratic state, an unwritten agreement has existed between Israel and the Diaspora. Diaspora Jews have even fought in the IDF during the War of Independence, the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War. Even today many young Jews from abroad eagerly enlist in the IDF, participating in wars and military operations; sadly, many of them have made the ultimate sacrifice, their lives.  

Jews have always sided with Israel, assisting in terms of material, moral and/or diplomatic support and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so unflinchingly. Israel must understand that it too has an obligation in this partnership. Israel must more proactively participate in reducing hateful discourse that is spreading like a plague worldwide. Unfortunately, recent violent incidents between Jews and Arabs inside Israel, show that hatred has also seeped into Israel.

The State of Israel must understand that Diaspora Jewry is a strategic asset. The government must assure Jews worldwide that it genuinely strives to ensure their security. At the same time, Knesset members must pass appropriate legislation that will consider Diaspora Jews and their plight, acknowledging their reality as an at-risk minority.

In Israel, there are several governmental bodies and organizations that maintain relations with world Jewry. Each of them deals with a particular aspect of the relationship and coordination between them is tenuous. There is the Ministry of Diaspora, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, Nativ, the Jewish Agency and many others. It should be emphasized that the relationship between the State of Israel and the Diaspora Jewry is particularly sensitive and should therefore be treated with the utmost wisdom and transparency, so to avoid allegations of "dual loyalty" for Jews abroad.

What is needed now is a unified body to coordinate and operate all diaspora related activities currently taking place in a disorganized manner. Based on my professional experience, the best way to tackle such a challenge is to establish a unified, permanent, apolitical, task force of Diaspora and Israeli representatives. Such a body should be part of the National Security Headquarters (National Security Council), falling under the auspices of the Prime Minister.

This congress will serve as an apolitical forum, bringing together representatives of the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform streams and all other groups, regardless of political leanings. In addition, representatives of all elected Israeli parties will be in attendance. Through dialogue we can create a comprehensive solution to improve the security of Jews and ensure that the State of Israel does not neglect its diplomatic shield before the next war.

The writer is the chair of the Center for Jewish Impact and Chair of the Board of Trustees of World ORT, a former senior Israeli government official and former CEO of the World Jewish Congress


June 14, 2021 17:54

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