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Solidarity with Israel doesn’t mean we all agree

Jews everywhere can debate Israel’s policies, but we have a profound understanding of the important of a sovereign, independent Jewish state
People carry Israeli flags as they march during the annual Celebrate Israel parade, Sunday, June 3, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
People carry Israeli flags as they march during the annual Celebrate Israel parade, Sunday, June 3, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

When I last marched on Fifth Avenue in the Celebrate Israel Parade I did so as an enthusiastic participant and an ardent believer in the importance of world Jewry’s support for Israel. I could not be more proud that this year I will be marching as one of the parade leaders in my capacity as Israel’s diaspora affairs minister. But, as I will explain, I also believe that the paradigm of the Diaspora – Israel relationship must change from when I was last involved in this parade.

After two difficult years in which it has not been possible to stage the parade – an event I believe to be a crucial expression of Jewish solidarity with Israel – it is a real blessing that American Jews will be able to come together again on Sunday to demonstrate their support for the Jewish state. For more than two years the COVID-19 pandemic created enormous difficulties for Jewish communities to meet, pray, organize and act. And of course, it put up severe obstacles to the ability of Jews in Israel and around the world to meet as well.

Physical barriers can quickly become emotional barriers, and so the very fact that Jews from all walks of life and from across social, political and denominational divides can come together again is vital to our health as a people and global community. But when I talk of coming together, I am also referring to the importance of Jewish solidarity with the State of Israel, which is the core message of the Celebrate Israel Parade.

I want to be very clear, however. When I use the term Jewish solidarity with the State of Israel I do not in any way mean unthinking or uncritical, reflexive support for every government of Israel or every policy Israel adopts. In recent years we have seen increasing divisions within the Diaspora Jewish community regarding attitudes to Israel. These divisions have arisen over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, religious pluralism in Israel, and other matters as well.

Jewish solidarity with Israel does not mean that Jews of any identity or affiliation must put aside their differences or conform to one perspective or approach. What it means is that all those who hold their Jewish identity dear, all those who value and cherish their belonging to the Jewish people, must also understand the crucial importance of the State of Israel to the entire Jewish nation, wherever they may live.

Jews everywhere, in the Diaspora and Israel, can debate Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. We can criticize Israel’s construction in the settlements, or Palestinian terrorism, or both. Jews can fulminate against the ongoing absence of state recognition for progressive Jewish denominations in Israel, or disapprove of reforms this government has enacted to provide greater freedom in choices over Jewish life and increase religious pluralism. The very fervor of our arguments over these issues is a result of the fact that we care so much about the Jewish state.

Why? Because we instinctively know how critical the State of Israel is to the Jewish people. Israel is the revival of Jewish sovereignty in the ancient homeland of the Jewish people after nearly 2,000 years of exile. Israel means an end to Jewish powerlessness.

Israel means that the Jewish people will never again be at the mercy of others. Israel means that if Jews around the world ever feel threatened they will always have a safe haven where they can find shelter. Israel means the Jewish people will always be able to determine its own destiny. Israel means the Jewish people will always be able to realize its fullest potential, to flourish, thrive and prosper as a nation, and contribute to the betterment and progress of the world around us.

This is why Israel is so important to us all. Despite our differences, we all have a profound, emotional understanding of how important a sovereign, independent Jewish state is to the well-being of the entire Jewish people.

As Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs, I have made it one of my goals to impress on Israeli society how important world Jewry is to the mission of safeguarding and strengthening Israel from all threats and challenges. Without Diaspora Jewry, Israel would never have been established and without Diaspora Jewry, Israel may not have survived its early years.

Even today, the Jewish Diaspora is crucial to Israel’s well-being. Jews and Jewish organizations advocate for Israel’s security and welfare with key decision-makers in government, the media and civil society.

And world Jewry continues to extend its incredible generosity to the State of Israel in every field of life and every endeavor the country undertakes.

But a crucial aspect of my vision is that the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora becomes more reciprocal. That it not just be a one-way street.

Israel has made progress in this regard in recent years, and I am proud that my ministry has taken a significant role in supporting and promoting Jewish education, formal and informal, in schools, college campuses, community centers and other institutions around the Jewish world.

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Israeli government through the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, provided NIS 20 million to assist Ukrainian Jews and provide them with food and medicine, and fund transport to the borders for those fleeing the fighting. I was especially gladdened by the fact that an Australian Jewish philanthropic fund partnered with us and provided NIS 5 million in matching funds for Israel’s efforts to assist the Jews of Ukraine. This reflects the relationship paradigm in which I so deeply believe; a true partnership between Israel and Diaspora Jewry that lifts us all up.

Only through collaboration, cooperation and reciprocity can we maximize our resources and make the best use of the skills, talents, drive and devotion of the entire Jewish people for the benefit of us all.

The Celebrate Israel Parade has the power to bring Jews together in recognition of the critical value the State of Israel has to the entire Jewish people, and the importance of standing in together in solidarity to protect and strengthen it.

I am honored to be participating in the parade and am looking forward to seeing you all there.

Celebrate Israel parade is organized by JCRC.

About the Author
Dr. Nachman Shai is Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs.