At the recent Annual Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA)
the participants reached the decision that the automatic allocation of 75
percent of its annual fundraising to the Jewish Agency for Israel was no longer
acceptable. It appears that the combination of today’s economic climate and
donors’ desire to be more personally involved in how their donations are
utilized has resulted in a rethink by the American federations.
thinking is shared by many individuals in the Jewish world who see the Jewish
state today as being in a far stronger economic situation than their own
respective countries of residence. This, together with the international
media bashing of Israel, has resulted in even Diaspora Jewry turning away from
Israel – a frightening fact that needs to be addressed in the most urgent
A major arena where this turning away is playing out is on
campuses worldwide. While we recognize that both national and Jewish
leadership will emerge from universities, we, as a Jewish people, have not paid
sufficient attention to an area where we are not only losing the support of our
Jewish students, but finding that some are attracted to our enemies.
has this come about? It is a combination of wealthy Arab states’ exceedingly
generous funding of the faculties dealing with Middle East studies, and a marked
lessening of tangible support for the Jewish student.
One cannot blame
these students, who, more often than not, arrive at university devoid of the
historic facts about Israel’s birth and what it was like for Jews in a world
without a Jewish state. In such circumstances, it is all too easy to bury
one’s head in the sand. Why bother standing up for an Israel about which they
know very little? Why affiliate with a country that appears to be the “problem”
in the world? Do they really want to be seen as identifying with Israel? Chances
are, most certainly not.
These Jewish graduates are likely to form
tomorrow’s Jewish communities. Should it not, therefore, be considered a
priority to equip them with the facts rather than the biased opinion pieces and
distorted negative pictures of Israel that the international media project?
does this link with the JFNA’s decision to discontinue funding for what amounts
to one-third of the Jewish Agency’s budget? The answer is that this is a clarion
call for the Jewish Agency and other major Zionist organizations based in Israel
to take on what the Jewish Agency’s Jerusalem Program originally set out to do:
namely give the Diaspora the tools to fight both assimilation and the
anti-Israel hysteria taking hold of what was traditionally the major source of
support for the Jewish state. In other words, Zionism today is not only about
how much money the Diaspora Jew gives to Israel, but about bringing back pride
in one’s Jewish identity.
Yes, one could argue that for some, a donation
to Israel is their only Jewish link – one that brings them here, where they have
a chance of seeing the reality rather than the negative façade presented by the
media. While this is a worthy way of retaining a connection, the truth is that
fewer and fewer are coming to Israel, and more and more of Diaspora Jewry’s
leadership (including the leadership of Zionist movements) is choosing to have
holiday homes in other countries.
Today, we need Israel-based Zionist
organizations with affiliates worldwide to pool their resources, creating a
program that prioritizes an educational process especially for the younger
generation. Every Zionist organization needs a Birthright scheme – to
ensure that all have the opportunity to experience Israel. Jewish day schools
and Zionist youth movements must attach more importance to ensuring that their
pupils and members are given a strong grounding in Jewish history. A way must
also be found to bring in the parents – many of whom are simply ignorant of what
Israel and its population are about.
Is it just about money? No – not any
longer. Now it is about recognizing that the partnership between Israel and the
Diaspora is a two-way process. We are here to help each other ensure our
collective future. This has to be the priority.
The writer is co-chair of
Europeans for Israel. Prior to her aliya in 1998, she chaired the Zionist
Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, the Bnai Brith Hillel Foundation and