Edelstein: Israel-Diaspora dynamic a two-way street

Public diplomacy and diaspora affairs minister tells WIZO meeting that Israel looks differently upon Diaspora than in past.

By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
January 17, 2012 04:44
2 minute read.
WIZO PRESIDENT Helena Glaser  with Yuli Edelstein

Edelstein WIZO 311. (photo credit: Kfir Sivan)

 
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Israel has changed its attitude toward the Diaspora and is more interested in a relationship of equals than it was before, Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister of Yuli Edelstein said on Monday.

Speaking at the Women’s International Zionist Organization’s Enlarged General Meeting in Tel Aviv, the Likud politician boasted that the government not only accepts donations from Jews living abroad but also invests in them.

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“Things have changed,” he said. “Israel is now willing to invest in bringing what people once called ‘rich kids from America’ to Israel on Birthright.

I don’t know if 20, 30 years ago that would happen.”

Edelstein shared a secret with the audience, revealing that the word “Diaspora” was dropped from the name of a Succot festival in Netanya last year because organizers were worried it would make it seem boring to Israelis and deter them from coming. The festival drew thousands of people, offering them a glimpse into the lives of member of Jewish communities around the world, he said. “Thousands learned about communities abroad.”

Other speakers at the panel included journalist Shmuel Rosner.

“I’d like you to know I have no intention to sing,” Avital quipped during her remarks, referring to the controversy over the role of women in Israeli society.

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Honorary WIZO president Sommer lambasted left-leaning Jewish organizations J Street and its European counterpart, JCall, for seeking to influence the Israeli government.

“Those are organizations who want to dictate, or at least influence, policy,” she said. “I don’t know what the future of those organizations would be.”

At the same time, Sommer cited several areas she thought it legitimate that Diaspora Jews try to influence Israeli policy, such as the definition of who is a Jew, and supporting aliya and Taglit- Birthright, which offers Diaspora Jews aged 18-26 free trips to Israel.

“Israel needs to take [Birthright] much more seriously and use state resources to fund it,” she said, drawing a round of applause.

Rosner said he welcomed “meddling” from Jews abroad.

“To the Diaspora I would say come, criticize, intervene and meddle on one condition: Make sure you know what you’re talking about,” the journalist said.

Avital said influence from the Diaspora on Israel exists on many levels, either through lobby organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee or donations to partisan group such as settlers in the West Bank. Such influence was inevitable, she said. What mattered was that lines are drawn relating to how Diaspora Jews should relate to Israel.

“The limit is not to work against an elected Israeli government,” she said.

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