Strengthening Jewish identity in the Diaspora will play an important role in allowing Diaspora Jews and Israel to weather the challenges they face today, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told members of the Jewish Agency’s board of governors on Monday.
Speaking at the Knesset during a gala honoring outgoing Board Of Governors chairman James Tisch, Netanyahu cited several challenges facing contemporary Israeli and Diaspora Jewry, including European anti-Semitism, Hamas terrorism, internecine fighting among Islamic extremists and Iranian nuclear aspirations.
Referring to the World Jewry Joint Initiative, a recent Israeli-Diaspora initiative aimed at bolstering Jewish identity in communities around the globe, Netanyahu said a commitment to Jewish identity and civilization gives the Jewish people “the power and moral force to address all these challenges.”
He added that Israel and Jews worldwide were “embarked on a great partnership.”
“Ultimately the power of our nation is built on the strength and depth of our identity,” he said.
The prime minister spent less time discussing assimilation with his largely American audience, preferring to speak about European anti-Semitism at length.
Addressing the crowd prior to the prime minister, Knesset speaker and former Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein said the issue of the Diaspora “is of major concern to all of us.”
Citing the role that jihadists returned from Syria have played in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe, most recently during a shooting attack on a Jewish Museum in Brussels, Edelstein said, “we should not pretend that we can divide our fates.”
Edelstein called on his listeners to “acknowledge the fact that anti-Semitism doesn’t bring new immigrants,” even if it provides a push because there are many other destinations available to western Jews seeking an exit from their respective European countries.
Programs such as Birthright and Masa, which bring young Jews to Israel to experience Jewish life in the Jewish state, he contended, have brought “more immigrants than all the anti-Semites together around the world.”
The government, he said, has not committed itself to an “unheard of investment” in Diaspora-Israel relations and “Jewish identity programs.”
The World Jewry Joint initiative, approved earlier this month, will funnel billions of shekels of government funds into identity programs abroad over the next two decades.
Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky said: “This is a fateful time for the Jews of Europe, the Jews of Israel, and world Jewry as a whole. The Jewish agency is partnering with the government of Israel in order to ensure that our common future is secure and prosperous.”