Solidifying the Israel-Diaspora relationship

Is it conceivable, for example, that a legislative body would enact a tax that would never apply, to its own members?

By YEDIDIA STERN
June 3, 2019 20:45
2 minute read.
WILL THE bonds with the Diaspora break?

WILL THE bonds with the Diaspora break? . (photo credit: REUTERS)

This past summer, the Knesset passed the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People. Put simply, the law emphasizes the state’s special bond to the Jewish people, including those who are not Israeli citizens. But would it be appropriate to go beyond  the law’s declarative aspect about the connection between the state and Diaspora Jewry, which is very important in and of itself, and take the next step and propose specific arrangements to link the state with the other half of the Jewish People around the world. Several proposals on this have been made in the past.

One would allocate several Knesset seats to representatives elected by Diaspora Jewry. This is a bold proposal and hard to accept. It is inconceivable that the Knesset should include members to whom Israeli law does not apply because they are not citizens of the state. The legitimacy of legislation is rooted in the fact that it also applies to the legislator. Is it conceivable, for example, that a legislative body would enact a tax that would never apply, to its own members? In addition, adding representatives of Diaspora Jewry to the Knesset would unjustifiably dilute the representation of non-Jews in that body.

Another proposal would create a Jewish parliament, with its members drawn from the Diaspora, to serve as an “upper house” alongside the Knesset, with limited authority on matters relevant to and impacting Diaspora Jewry. Even though this idea is more moderate than the previous one, it suffers from the same problems. If the intention is to grant the upper house veto power over Knesset legislation that applies to the Jewish people as a whole, what could justify assigning such power to those who do not share equally in the burden of preserving Israeli sovereignty?

That said, I do believe it is important to solidify the State-Diaspora Jewry connection by formalizing the relationship. We could consider creating an entity to be named the “Jewish People Commission,” deriving its status from the Knesset, which would take into account the significance and impact of Knesset legislation for Diaspora Jewry. Its leadership would be comprised of Israeli citizens, alongside of whom would be a steering committee made up of representatives of the Diaspora.

The Jewish People Commission would have advisory status only, with no power to intervene in the decision-making process in Israel. When a relevant bill is making its way through the Knesset, presumably after its first reading, the commission, drawing on its expertise and experience, would consider its impact on the Diaspora. A steering committee would present the interests and sensitivities of Diaspora Jewry to the commission, which would retain sole authority to advise and make recommendations to the Knesset.

This system would enhance Knesset members’ awareness and sensitivity to the implications of their actions for our family across the sea, and our family would be given the opportunity to make their voice heard with regard to their concerns about Israeli decisions that affect their lives in the Diaspora, through a formal Knesset organ.

Prof. Yedidia Stern is a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and a professor of law at Bar-Ilan University.

This article was written in cooperation with the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI).


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