The Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization will be meeting in Jerusalem
next week. Of late, the media have been conveying the message that many Diaspora
Jews, especially youngsters, are becoming alienated from the Jewish state. It is sometimes even implied that more Jews are engaged in castigating than
This is certainly a wild exaggeration. Despite the
combined impact of postmodernism and the hostile anti-Israeli environment, the
majority of activists, including young people, remain faithful to the Jewish
state, which represents the core of their Jewish identity.
true that established Jewish leaders in many communities display a penchant to
downplay pro-Israel advocacy and assume a low profile. This trend was boosted as
the liberal media began highlighting and lauding as heroes Jews who demonize the
Jewish state. This in turn emboldened them to demand recognition as legitimate
members of the mainstream Jewish community.
Regrettably the response of
many confused communal leaders was to prattle on about the virtues of enlarging
the “Jewish tent” to include organizations like J Street, which inaccurately
portray themselves as “pro-Israel, pro-peace” while shamelessly lobbying foreign
governments to exert pressure on Israel. They failed to appreciate the
incongruity of integrating into their ranks groups whose prime objective is to
THIS CHAOTIC arena led to what can only be described as
bizarre behavior unprecedented in Jewish communal life: “rabbis” claiming to
promote “tikkun olam” by actively supporting and engaging with avowed enemies of
the Jewish people; debates conducted within federations as to whether Jewish
philanthropic funding should be directed to organizations promoting anti-Israel
plays and films; the New York Jewish Federation bestowing $1 million of
charitable funds on the fervently anti-Israel George Soros-sponsored group
Jewish Funds for Justice; individual Hillel directors treating the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a dispute between two morally equivalent
parties, on occasion even favoring the Palestinians; and student activists in
the UK, Canada and the United States being urged by Jewish establishment bodies
to assume low profiles and avoid confronting anti- Israel
What typifies this insanity was a recent “very difficult
decision” undertaken following a fervent debate at Brandeis University’s Hillel
as to whether to exclude from the “big tent” Jewish Voices for Peace – an
organization shamelessly calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions against
Israel. The problem was resolved by endorsing a recommendation by Martin Raffel
(senior vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs), who ruled that
supporting boycotts of goods produced in the West Bank should be considered a
legitimate (!) Jewish activity. However, as Jewish Voices for Peace also opposed
an independent Jewish state, he felt that this “crossed a red line,” and the
decision was made to exclude them! It is incomprehensible why preponderantly
Zionist contributors to these philanthropic organizations tolerate such abuse of
THE PRINCIPAL reason for the emergence of such troubling
developments seems to emanate from inadequate leadership. During the early years
of the state, Labor Zionist governments invested major resources toward
nurturing links with Diaspora Jewish leaders.
No aspiring Jewish communal
leader would conceivably contemplate criticizing policies which could have
life-or-death implications for Israelis.
However, recent government
leaders, including prime ministers, have neglected Diaspora Jewish leadership,
and instead fawned over wealthy Jews, from whom they solicit support for their
political and personal enterprises.
Historically, the Jewish Agency for
Israel (JAFI) and the World Zionist Organization (WZO) were the principal
parties responsible for promoting the Zionist cause within Diaspora Jewish
communities. In fact, their program of Kibbush Hakehilot – the Zionist “conquest
of Jewish communities” – succeeded to such an extent that support for the Jewish
state from “Zionist” and Jewish communal leaders became virtually
Alas, that activity eroded in the 1980s, as JAFI was
largely reduced to a bloated bureaucracratic instrumentality occupied with
activities that could equally be conducted by other state
Nobody disputes that JAFI still operates important
Zionist educational projects like Birthright and Masa.
The seminars on
delegitimization which they will be conducting at their forthcoming board
meeting are a commendable academic exercise, but are duplicated by virtually
every major Jewish organization engaged in public affairs, and the participants
are not necessarily likely to be indulging in Israel advocacy. However, beyond
such projects, JAFI has abysmally failed to fulfill its principal obligation –
promoting the centrality of Israel in Jewish communal life throughout the
Despite great expectations, the chairman of JAFI, Natan Sharansky,
a hero of the Jewish people and the symbol for renascent Zionism, has until now
proven a major disappointment. He is perceived as having capitulated to the
demands of wealthy (primarily American) board members determined to dilute core
Zionist projects and transform JAFI into a replica of the American Jewish
fundraising federation system.
Many Zionists were deeply frustrated with
Sharansky’s decision to substitute JAFI’s traditional primary goal of aliya
(which was already operated by Nefesh B’Nefesh) and concentrate almost
exclusively on the vague objective of “promoting Jewish identity,” which surely
does not conflict with aliya, and which everyone supports. Ironically the aliya
department was disbanded precisely when Western countries began to emerge as a
major new potential source of immigrants.
The WZO, whose funding has been
drastically curtailed and which is now totally separated from JAFI, is justly
regarded as an utterly impotent body with marginal impact on the Jewish world.
It continues convening global meetings and congresses in which nobody takes the
slightest interest. Other than the Australian, British and South African Zionist
federations, which carry on with minimal support from the parent body, its
Diaspora offshoots have disintegrated.
TODAY, WE desperately need a
global Jewish pro-Israel caucus which could emerge from a reformed JAFI. But it
should not depend on existing personnel tainted with failure, or primarily on
wealthy donors. It must incorporate a wide cross-section of Diaspora and Israeli
Jewish activists engaged in public communal life and encompassing all sides of
the political spectrum and religious streams within Judaism. The sole proviso
for entry should be a genuine commitment to promoting Israel as the center of
the Jewish people.
The principal objective of a reformed JAFI must be the
reconstruction of an unashamedly pro-Israel Jewish leadership in Diaspora
communities, including within the American federations, Hillel and rabbinical
bodies. It should endeavor to ensure that only those willing to publicly support
the right of Israel to defend itself will be elected to communal leadership
Such an action group should speak out when establishment communal
leaders remain silent in the face of anti-Israel activity. Importantly, it
should promote Zionist education and ensure that every Jewish high school
allocates at least a few hours a week to teaching about modern Israel, so that
when students arrive on campus they are sufficiently informed to respond to the
In the profoundly challenging times now
confronting the Jewish people, action to bring about such changes should be
considered an absolute priority.
Representing the vast majority of
committed Jews, a group dedicated to these objectives would have a dramatic
impact on the quality of Jewish communal life, and help restore bonds between
the Diaspora and Israel.
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