An Open Letter to the Minister Omer Yankelevitch

The rift between world Jewry and the State of Israel has widened following years of alienation, politics, and the “donate and say thank you” approach. The Minister of Diaspora Affairs needs to do something

The honorable Sarah, the relations between Israel’s and Diaspora Jewry in recent years have largely deteriorated. Why is this? Due to a combination of the annulment of legislation (the Western Wall compromise and conversion law) with the state’s failure to recognize non-Orthodox religious streams (that constitute 80% of US Jewry and an overwhelming majority in the rest of the world), the Prime Minister’s intervention in American politics, turning Israel into an issue that polarizes American Jews, and the embrace of evangelicals by various parties in Israel, for political reasons, as well.

Diaspora Jews are torn between their love for the State of Israel and their religious beliefs and their interpretation of “Tikkun Olam.” A lack of understanding regarding what is happening in Israel and our political system with disappointments regarding the above makes more and more Jews feel alienated.

The State of Israel has never really shown openness to Diaspora Jews. The message conveyed to them over the years was “The State of Israel needs your money. Donate to us and say thank you that we exist,” taking advantage of the guilt/privilege of living in “exile.”

As time went by, the sense of a mutual fate was blunted, and, while Israelis became increasingly victims, Diaspora Jews opened to their surroundings (and their surroundings opened to them) and became intensely involved in politics and civil society in their countries. Today, more than ever, they need to know that the State of Israel and its citizens are there for them, just as Diaspora Jews have stood alongside the State of Israel at all times.

In advance, I say, Honorable Minister Yankelevitch, your ability is limited. I don’t expect you to turn your back on your religious beliefs and I don’t believe you can change the political reality there. However, there is something quite easy you can do to strengthen the relationship with our overseas brothers: open your door to them and invite them to a conversation.

How? And with whom? Surprisingly, the World Zionist Congress is alive and kicking. The US elections for the Congress have just ended and Diaspora Jewry representatives from around the world are scheduled to convene in Jerusalem in the coming year. In some countries, there are no congressional elections, but it can be said that most Diaspora Jewish leaders are concentrated in the World Zionist Congress.

In the United States, Judaism is incredibly institutionalized and organized. The unification of North American Jewish Federations and religious organizations are the representative bodies of all Jewish communities, through which millions can be reached.

Integrate forces with the chairman of the Jewish Agency, Yitzchak Herzog. He has rich experience, both politically and in connection with Diaspora Jewry. Together they have worked out a way to make the Agency’s returning emissaries Diaspora Jewry ambassadors in Israel.

And there are two other groups: one taken for granted and the other ignored. The first is the Israelis who have moved abroad. There are more than one million Israelis and their children around the world who love the country and care about what happens there. Israelis want a connection to their homeland, an emotional connection that will be expressed through the advancement of Hebrew culture and the Hebrew language, which is critical not only to Israelis but to promoting Israel’s status in the world.

The second group is the younger generation of Diaspora Jews, some of whom are very critical of Israel’s policy for all the reasons I mentioned above, but the real concern is that most of them simply have lost interest in Israel. Years of neglecting Israeli and Diaspora ties, emphasis of Israel as victim, a narrow vision of “either for or against us” and the rejection of self-criticism have led to a growing sense of alienation. The relationship between them and the State of Israel today is loose at best or completely absent at worst. It is imperative to find the way back to their hearts.

Diaspora Jews, including Israelis abroad, want to know that they have a place in Israel even if they do not live in it. Judaism is the religion of Diaspora Jews, but their nationality is that of the country in which they live. Their identification with the State of Israel is based only on their ties to Jewish destiny, and therefore it is important to give them a sense of belonging, even if physically distant from home.

In addition, Honorable Minister Yankelevitch, although you cannot change a lot, it is important to expose the citizens of Israel to what is happening in the Diaspora and the challenges facing the Jews there. If we really wish to connect between Israelis and Diaspora Jews, we better start showing that “Achdut Goral” is not just about what happens in Israel, but what happens in the Jewish world an within the Jewish communities.

About the Author
Yaakov (Kobi) Cohen is an Israeli-American, born in Jerusalem and now reside to New York City where he works in a Jewish Non-for-Profit. As a political activist, Cohen is most interested in the Israeli-American Jewish relationship and its impact on the future of the Jewish world and seeking to build bridges between Israelis & Jewish Americans, or at least establish a different dialogue. Kobi is a co-founder of Israel Shelanu and Host of BALAGAN - Explaining Israeli Politics Podcast
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