KIEV – World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder said here on Monday that Jewish communities around the world are feeling a growing distance between themselves and Israel, and that Israel must reach out to such communities and listen to their concerns.
He emphasized in particular his concern that Israel is alienating liberal and progressive Jews, and that the Jewish state needs to show it is as concerned with such communities as it is with ultra-Orthodox ones.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post at the Kyiv Jewish Forum, Lauder also expressed concern over the rise of hard-right, ultranationalist and populist parties in various countries which enjoy good relations with Israel but whose local Jewish population views such parties more skeptically.
“What we see today very much throughout many of the [Jewish] communities I’ve spoken with is that they feel a distance between themselves and Israel,” said Lauder.
The WJC president noted that many Diaspora Jewish communities are more liberal, secular and less Orthodox than Israel, and that this was one of the causes behind the distancing between the two groups.
“Most Jewish communities today are liberal, secular or Reform, and they’re looking at Israel more and more as being ultra-Orthodox and not pluralistic,” he said, adding that this situation has led “many” Diaspora Jewish communities to “feel alone.”
Lauder expressed particular concern that the concerns and sensitivities of liberal and non-Orthodox communities are being ignored by the Jewish state, and that this could lead to greater alienation of non-Orthodox groups.
“We must do what we can to bring Israel and the Jewish people closer together… because at the rate we are going, we are going to have the Diaspora getting smaller and smaller and in the end you’ll be left only with ultra-Orthodox [people] because the other streams of Judaism feel abandoned.”
To address these problems, the WJC president said that Israel needs to start making an effort to engage with these Jewish communities “and not just the ultra-Orthodox ones,” stating in particular that Israel’s Foreign Ministry should start taking up this challenge.
“The amount of effort that Israel is putting into its foreign service is very little, including its outreach to the Jewish communities,” he said.
“It’s important that Israel has a strong Ministry of Foreign Affairs that goes out and starts talking to these people and understanding them and reaching out to them.”
Addressing the rise of populist and ultranationalist parties in various countries with significant Jewish communities, Lauder noted that several of these states enjoy good relations with Israel and the US, and use this status to gloss over concerns their local Jewish communities have with such parties.
“Ultranationalist parties in some countries feel that as long as they have good relations with Israel and the US that makes them okay, and it doesn’t make a difference what happens to the Jewish people in their country,” said Lauder.
“It’s a problem. Unfortunately when they come to Israel they talk about how wonderful it is between that country and Israel, but not enough about what is happening in the Jewish population there.”
Israel has in recent years grown close to several countries, such as Hungary and Austria, which are led by or include populist, hard-right or even far-right parties which include members who have expressed antisemitic ideas, as well as Holocaust denial or revisionism.
Lauder said that Israel needs to understand what is happening in these specific countries, and be more sensitive to the concerns of the liberal, secular and non-Orthodox Jewish communities which he said are often on less friendly terms with the government than the ultra-Orthodox communities.
The WJC president also discussed the growing need for greater security protection of Diaspora Jewish communities in the wake of the Poway and Pittsburgh shootings and rising violent antisemitism.
He said that the amount of money needed is “enormous” and that Jewish organizations could not bear the costs themselves, meaning that national governments needed to do more to protect their Jewish communities.
Lauder also called for greater efforts to go into not just preventative measures but also the monitoring of extremist activity to stop violent attacks against Jewish communities before they even happen.
“We can find a way if we all work together. Right now no one’s working with us, the Jewish Diaspora. We’re alone. The Jewish Diaspora doesn’t feel like anyone is working with us,” he said, saying that Israel and the US needed to approach national governments and work with them to protect other Jewish communities.