‘Israelis living abroad are turning their backs on the country’

The World Zionist Organization is working hard to unite Jewish people and reconnect Israelis and Jews living in the Diaspora to their Jewish values, as antisemitism remains rampant.

August 6, 2019 19:15
4 minute read.
World Zionist Organization vice chairman Yaakov Hagoel

World Zionist Organization vice chairman Yaakov Hagoel. (photo credit: WORLD ZIONIST ORGANIZATION)

The fight against antisemitism is on, and as incidents across the world continue to rise, the World Zionist Organization (WZO) is working hard to play its part in this ongoing battle.
“The leading issue in the Jewish world today is antisemitism – it’s worldwide,” WZO vice chairman Yaakov Hagoel told The Jerusalem Post this week. “And unfortunately, over the last five years, people are starting to realize that it’s raising its head in a bad way. It’s a tough challenge, but we are working hard on countering it.”
A big part of this battle is also encouraging Israelis living both at home and abroad to remain connected to their roots, their Zionism and their home country, as well as to strengthen the Jewish identity of world Jewry.
Hagoel estimated that there are about a million Israelis living in North America, as well as Israeli communities in Australia, Europe and other parts of the world.
“There is a big problem of assimilation among Israelis,” he pointed out, especially abroad.
“We are witnessing a situation where Israelis [living abroad] are also turning their backs on Israel to the extent of becoming anti-Israel,” he said. “We have a lot of programs to bring them back to both Judaism and Israel.”
Later this month, for example, “150 Israelis and their families, who are now living in New Jersey but are on vacation in Israel, will take part in a Zionism Day where they will visit Mount Herzl, the Western Wall and Mahaneh Yehuda to reconnect them with the values they may have lost over the years.”
“It’s not easy,” he stressed, making it clear that it’s a big concern for the WZO.
He also said that the WZO has educational programs worldwide to keep the connection between Diaspora Jewry, Judaism and Israel alive. About 250 teachers from Israel have been sent as emissaries worldwide to work on building and cultivating this fading connection.
Some of the events held by the emissaries include ulpans, cooking classes in Hebrew and other initiatives to connect them with Judaism and Israel. Such events are also held for students at school and university.
“One of the big challenges we’ve been noticed is that Jews are speaking less and less Hebrew,” he said. “We have 400 ulpan classes worldwide,” he added, emphasizing that “language is one of the foundations of a nation.”
Hagoel stressed that “we must strengthen Jewish identity and Jewish pride because, unfortunately, more and more people are moving away, and it’s not just in the United States.
“We’re seeing it in South America, Europe, South Africa… because of globalization, they are losing their values and we are trying to find methods to reach out to as many Jews as possible,” he said.
He stressed that these issues do not skip Israelis living in the country either.

ON THE mainstream antisemitism front, Hagoel explained that the WZO will be holding several conferences in different parts of the world over the next few months to give Jewish communities the tools to fight antisemitism.
The first of these conferences is taking place in Chile in September where, Hagoel said, antisemitism is stemming from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Conferences will also be taking place in New York, France and Israel on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“The conference participants will be given a toolbox taught by experts about how to deal with antisemitism and how to react to it in different places” such as on university campuses.
“The aim is to create discussion and raise awareness about antisemitism worldwide and expose it as much as possible,” Hagoel said. “There have to be discussions about it on a day-to-day level.”
He stressed that the Jewish people need to be united around this issue. “All Jews need to be for one and one Jew needs to be for all,” he said, adapting the famous line from The Three Musketeers.
Hagoel views anti-Zionism as one in the same with antisemitism, saying that “it’s a disguise.”
He made it clear that it is okay to criticize Israel, just like it’s okay to criticize any other country in the world. But when it comes to criticism of Israel, there are double standards, and “you can’t have double standards.”
“We need to remind ourselves that there was antisemitism many years before 1967 [the Six Day War] and before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948,” he stressed, making it clear that the WZO does see the boycott movement as antisemitic.
“Naming antisemitism something else doesn’t mean it is something else,” he said.
Another aspect in this battle against antisemitism is online. The organization has volunteers and interns working on WZO’s digital platform to bring awareness about antisemitism to the forefront as well.
In September, the organization will also launch a cell phone application called Zionnet in English and Spanish, in a bid to strengthen world Jewry’s connection to the state. The application is available in Hebrew.
“You’ll be able to sync daily events from Israel’s history into your daily phone calendar,” which will allow people to learn new, unknown and interesting facts about Israel, its past and the Jewish people.
There will also be quizzes and other fun activities available for users through the app.

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