The Jewish world should set a goal that within five years it will be able to facilitate a visit to Israel for any young Jew who wants to make the trip, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday.
In a speech to a gathering of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said, “I think we should set very clear goals… The first is that within five years, every young Jew who wants to visit Israel will be able to come to Israel. I think this is something that we should define and stand by. It’s no longer an impossible goal. We can do this.”
Netanyahu also called for bringing “Jewish educators and community leaders on special training courses to Israel. It’s not sufficient just to have the young people come. It’s important to have their educators come here as well – no less important.” And finally, he said, Israelis, too, should have a stronger awareness of the Diaspora.
“I would like to see every Israeli Jew understand and appreciate the connection between Israel and the Diaspora. It’s not just about your connection to us; it’s about our connection to you. And this requires an educational effort inside Israel no less that outside.”
The government has invested tens of millions of dollars in recent years
in programs such as Taglit-Birthright Israel and Masa in order to help
finance short- and long-term stays in Israel for Diaspora youth. Over
200,000 college-age Jews have come on Birthright trips, while Masa
brings some 8,000 each year to Israel for months-long volunteer
projects and programs throughout the country.
The government has recently begun to consider funding high school-age programs as well.
Netanyahu vowed additional government funds for these initiatives. “I
think that [achieving these goals] will require a real partnership
between us… I’m prepared for that partnership and I’m prepared to
invest in that partnership. They always ask prime ministers and
presidents, ‘Are you willing to put your money where your mouth is?’
And the answer – I think we’ve shown it over the years – yes we are.”
Netanyahu did not offer any specifics on the government pledge, but
offered praise for Israel-based Jewish identity programs as an answer
to fading identification across the Jewish world, and also praised
Israel’s funding of such programs.
“A lot of people were skeptical that these things would grow and
develop,” he said of programs such as Birthright and Masa, “but I think
they have, and I think they’ve made a profound difference. They’ve
connected an entire generation of young Jews to Israel at time when
there are so many forces that are working to disconnect them from
Israel.” He promised to “participate with you” in expanding these
In an apparent hint at some other concerns to Diaspora Jewry,
particularly over conversion legislation currently before the Knesset
that has rankled representatives of the Reform and Conservative
movements on the Board of Governors, he said, “I want to assure you
that I will not permit the interests of the majority of world Jewry to
be ignored.” Netanyahu also touched briefly on the peace process,
calling on the Palestinian leadership to agree to bilateral talks.
“We should begin direct talks for peace now, without delay and without preconditions,” he said.
Despite the government’s “demonstrable, credible and in some cases
unprecedented [actions] to enable that [negotiation] process to move
forward speedily,” including the removal of “hundreds of roadblocks and
checkpoints that facilitated a rapid economic growth, in fact boom, in
the Palestinian economy here in the West Bank” and last year’s Bar Ilan
speech that recognized Palestinian statehood as a final result of
negotiations, “we’ve not had any commensurate response from the
Palestinian leadership,” he said.