For first time ever, a ministry devoted exclusively to the Diaspora

For most of its history the title of Diaspora Affairs Minister was relatively empty, without an attendant bureaucracy and organization to back it up.

May 19, 2015 22:29
2 minute read.
Diaspora youngsters enjoy a Birthright Israel trip to the Jewish state.

Diaspora youngsters enjoy a Birthright Israel trip to the Jewish state.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

For the first time in the state’s history, the government has an independent ministry devoted exclusively to Diaspora affairs.

On Tuesday, the government announced that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had transferred responsibility for Jerusalem affairs from the Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry to his own office – meaning that there will now be a functioning government ministry dealing solely with the Diaspora, outside the context of immigration and absorption.

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Representatives of the ministry declined to comment on the move.

From 2001 to 2006, the Diaspora Affairs portfolio was combined with other ones. In 2007, Isaac Herzog took over as minister of the Diaspora, society and the fight against anti-Semitism, and his successor Yuli Edelstein became public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs minister.

The name of the ministry and the portfolios with which it was combined continued to change, with Netanyahu and then Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett running the newly formed Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry.

Bennett continues to head the ministry in the new government.

For most of its history, the title of Diaspora affairs minister was relatively empty, lacking an attendant bureaucracy and organization to back it up. Over the last several years, however, an actual ministry has grown up around the title, and there are expectations that with the recent rise in anti-Semitism worldwide, it will continue to grow – although it many think it will remain small.

Over the past year, there has been some friction between the ministry and the Jewish Agency – the state’s traditional interface with the Diaspora – especially regarding their respective roles in a government plan intended to promote Jewish engagement in communities abroad.

According to Michael Jankelowitz, a former Jewish Agency spokesman and an observer of the country’s Diaspora policy, the cabinet decision does not signify a shift in the ministry’s direction.

“The Jewish Agency for Israel in whatever form will always be the primary address for official Israel-Diaspora relations, based on its covenant with the government,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

Aside from working on the government’s Diaspora identity initiative, the ministry under Bennett has also worked to help resettle Ukrainian Jews displaced by their country’s civil war, donating several million shekels through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

In November 2013, Bennett told Jewish leaders from around the world that Israel “typically view[s] the world as a source of aliya and a big fat wallet, and that’s got to change.”

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