One of the hard truths Jews have learned during our millennia-long history is that we do not get to define who is a Jew. Our enemies do. Whether we convert or become enlightened has not mattered to generations of haters who have hounded us. The calls and actions of protestors across the world since the massacres of October 7th are only the latest in this chain, as they attack Jews in the name of liberating Palestine.
It is fitting that in this 75th year of Israel’s history, the year that nearly saw the collapse of Israel from within, we learned that our current enemies have decided that all Jews are official representatives of the State of Israel; that all Jews are legitimate targets for protest and censure for the perceived crime of Israel’s existence. We can lament and object to this generalization, but the fact remains: the non-Jewish world has not bought our decades of declaring loyalty to the nation-states where we dwell. They do not distinguish between the Diaspora and Israel. The protestors on the streets of London and Paris and New York have declared: Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh – All Jews are responsible for each other.
Serendipitously, what the protestors identified out of hate, Jews of the Diaspora have come to realize out of love. Since October 7th, Jews around the world enlisted to do whatever they could to support the State of Israel and the needs of Israelis. Hundreds of millions of dollars were raised and sent in only weeks. Setting aside a few exceptions, Jews in the Diaspora felt one with the pain felt by Israelis. The Jewish communities of London and Paris and New York have declared: Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh.
Which is why I believe it is time for us to accept that the dichotomy between Israel and the Diaspora no longer stands. It is time for us to recognize that Israel is not a 19th-century nation-state defined by its borders. Israel is perhaps the first 21st-century network-state defined by its international membership and its spectrum of civil commitments. In an age where humanity faces acute international challenges – extremism, democratic backsliding, climate collapse – this new form may be exactly what humanity needs to learn from and replicate.
What would it mean for Israel to start acting like a network-state as opposed to a nation-state? Or for Jewish organizations in the Diaspora to start thinking as citizens of an Israeli network-state? Practically, it would require us to rethink the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and how those rights and responsibilities shift based on jurisdiction. It would mean taking the needs of all members of our global network into account and enshrining our commitment to each other’s welfare in our communal mechanisms. It would mean aspiring to stand for more.
We do not need to start from scratch. Although Political Zionists colluded with American Jewish anti-Zionists to develop the concept of a Diaspora-Israel divide, others such as Ahad Ha’am advocated for Israel to serve as the homebase for the People of Israel. A laboratory for the Jewish quest to fix the world. As Ahad Ha’am’s student Mordechai Kaplan wrote in 1951, “Without the opportunity of demonstrating what Judaism that has a free field for itself can do to further social and spiritual progress, the Jewish people is like a musical genius who lacks an instrument on which to play…The establishment of the State of Israel thus means for Jews everywhere, and notably in America, an instrument by which the Jewish people is enabled to play a significant role in human civilization and demonstrate the validity of its holiest ideals.”
Shifting our stance from one defined by the Diaspora-Israel divide to one centered around Kol Israel Unity will require a blueprint to integrate the needs of citizens living abroad into the logic of the state, and visa-versa. It will require a new symbolic language, a new legal structure, and a new ethos of obligation and opportunity. Practically, here are a few ways I recommend we get started:
Service-Period for All
While youth movements and Jewish day schools have offered gap year opportunities for decades, the State of Israel and Jewish communities across the world should launch a fully-funded service period for all global citizens using the Year of Service (Shnat Sherut) model currently available to Israelis. Service should be conducted outside the service member’s community, whenever possible, to strengthen the understanding and commitment of one node to another. The State and Jewish communities around the world should make service the rule, not the exception.
Upgrading international university programs in Israel
The withdrawal of donor support from American universities should be immediately redirected to strengthening and expanding world-class international university programs in Israel. Until now, Israeli international programs have been underfunded and generally second-rate. Israel and donors have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to significantly upgrade these programs and attract some of the world’s brightest minds to transform Israel into a global center for higher education.
Including global Jewish voices in the Knesset
While Jewish communities around the world are regularly affected by the decisions of Israel’s parliament, and are always there to support Israelis morally and financially when we need it, the voices of Global Jewry are absent from the Knesset. If we bleed together we must also lead together.
The birth of the nation-state was right for the historical period in which it occurred. Since Israel’s ideological roots were planted during that period, it is natural we wanted to be like the other nations and have a nation-state of our own. History, however, has proven we are not like the other nations. We are inherently both/and. Both rooted in our soil and with branches spread across the world.
A blueprint for a post-2023 Israel requires we negate the idea of the Diaspora/Israel divide. It calls us to embrace the reality of Kol Yisrael, calls us to expand our political imagination to take in the responsibilities and opportunities inherent in being a network-state. To hone the instrument upon which we may play to demonstrate our care for one another and our commitment to human civilization as a whole.
How can you use the tools of public diplomacy to strengthen the ties between Kol Israel in this time of deeply worrying attacks on Jews and Israelis worldwide? Identification of Jews living outside of Israel with Israel, and Israelis living in Israel with the plight of Jews living across the world, are both at historic highs. Cross-identification under threat is as natural as the ‘rally around the flag’ effect. Taking this unity forward, however, depends on developing a shared vision for the future and shared aspirations. Encouraging this unity or purpose will require us to take practical steps in our own internal public diplomacy:
1. Amplify the courage of those facing threats across the sea.
The inspiring examples of Jews across the US and Europe posting signs calling for the return of hostages, of Israeli television shows highlighting the bigotry and hatred experienced by Jewish students across university campuses, all are great examples for how we strengthen one another when we tell each others’ stories in our own words. By focusing on the brave and creative actions, as opposed to the victimization of our people, we can inspire action and positive identification with those rising up to take on shared challenges.
2. Include the opinions of those outside your community in community discussions.
Many of the conversations we have within our communities have broader implications and stem from broader challenges that cross over from our community to the wider Kol Yisrael network as a whole. If we are to start thinking as a networked-nation, we need to include in our conversations the voices of those stakeholders so that we may be able to understand second- and third-order implications of the actions we intend on taking. As individuals, this means we need to invite others into those conversations and contend with their perspectives.
3. Bring a global consciousness into global conversations about global challenges.
When a nation-state thinks about what it can do to address a global challenge such as rising extremism or global heating, it is limited to the political economy within its borders. When citizens of a nation-state advocate for global change, they are similarly limited to where they have influence. By thinking as citizens of a global people, however, we can build more complex, multifaceted strategies to address common challenges. We can draw upon our commonality of destiny to call people to join the fight for a better future. When we advocate as citizens of a network-state, we can advocate for global action out of shared obligation and commitment.