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Israeli minister 'profoundly worried' about differences with diaspora Jews

Increased funding needed for Jews abroad, Naftali Bennett says

    Israeli education and diaspora affairs minister Naftali Bennett
    Israeli education and diaspora affairs minister Naftali Bennett Photo: Flash 90

    A senior Israeli minister has said he is “profoundly worried” about the growing number of differences between his country and Jews around the world.

    Naftali Bennett, who leads the Jewish Home party and sits in Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet, said a new period was emerging in Jewish history and Israel now needed to do more to invest in the diaspora.

    “There is a problem with interpretations of Judaism. In Israel, if you are secular, you chose not to be Orthodox. That is the measuring stick,” he told journalists during a visit to London.

    “Reform and Conservative movements are virtually non-existent – I don’t know why, but when you are traditional [in Israel], you are Orthodox. This creates a very big disconnect.”

    Israel’s relations with the diaspora were strained this summer when Mr Netanyahu’s government cancelled plans to create a mixed-gender prayer space at one of Judaism’s holiest sites, the main Western Wall plaza.

    The new space, which would have been alongside the existing male- and female-only areas and seen all worshippers use the same gate to enter the plaza, is a key demand from progressive Jewish circles.

    But the decision to scrap the plans coincided with proposals tabled in Israel’s parliament to grant full control of conversions within Israel to the Strictly Orthodox.

    “We had a bad week in the summer when Israel backtracked on the deal we had to create an egalitarian prayer space and the bill for conversion was passed at the same time, creating the perfect storm,” Mr Bennett said.

    He said a separate, egalitarian praying platform already exists 30 metres to the south of the plaza, but acknowledged the issue had highlighted differences between Israel and diaspora Jews.

    “Israel must invest resources in the Jewish diaspora, even if they don’t make aliyah. We can do this because we’re a strong country and we don’t need their funds; we can now invest outwards,” he said.

    “If I were prime minister, perhaps my third objective would be the Jews abroad. I would increase the budget to give them more of a say in our politics – not a complete say, because they don’t serve in the military.

    “We’re entering a new period in Jewish history.”

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