Herzog: Israelis uninformed about Diaspora

“Most Israeli politicians are ignorant and don’t care [that] their words affect the Diaspora,” Labor MK says.

By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
February 2, 2012 03:13
2 minute read.
Isaac Herzog

Herzog 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

 
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Most Israelis don’t know enough about the Diaspora, lamented MK Isaac Herzog at the Herzliya Conference on Wednesday.

Speaking on a panel debating delegitimization of Israel and anti-Semitism with other senior Israeli politicians and Jewish officials, the Labor lawmaker said there was a disconnect between the Jewish state and Jewish communities overseas.

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“Most Israeli politicians are ignorant and don’t care [that] their words affect the Diaspora,” he said.

Herzog, whose grandfather was Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, the chief rabbi of Ireland from 1921 to 1936, added that Israel needed to “reinvigorate” its narrative to address its critics. He said Israel needed to educate younger generations on the lessons of the Holocaust and stress its liberal democratic values to the world – which permit voters to elect lawmakers whose political beliefs range from “Muslim fundamentalist to Jewish fascist.”

But Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, disagreed with Herzog about the state of Diaspora-Israel relations. He said no other country in the world is more attuned to its ethnic communities overseas than the Jewish state.

“What ministers meet with Diaspora leaders so many times?” asked Hoenlein.

“Take a look at their calendars and you will see no other government takes into account the Diaspora more than Israel.”

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Hoenlein, who is a confidant of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and has acted as a mediator on Israel’s behalf at meetings with Arab leaders, rebuked those who draw a line between Israel’s policies and anti-Semitism.

“Would Hitler hate us or more less if there was no Israel?” he asked. “If Israel did not exist would [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and [Ayatollah Ali] Khaminai not go for nuclear power?” Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein also said anti-Semitism was not a result of Israeli policies, citing a recent survey he presented to the government.

“Unfortunately we see the same old blood libels, but instead of the word ‘Jews’ we use the word ‘Israeli,’” he said. “Once again, to fight anti-Semitism we have to understand it is many more things than just the conflict.”

Other participants in the debate included Dan Diker, the secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and Claude Kandiyoti, the former publisher of the Belgian Jewish monthly Contact J.

Diker applauded the South African Jewish community for its successful opposition to the Russell Tribunal, a panel that he said sought to put Israel on trial. Diker said the community’s response was a good example of a proactive and confident approach that should be replicated elsewhere.

Kandiyoti said left-leaning Jewish advocacy groups such as J Street and JCall should be allowed to be part of the dialogue and that they had Israel’s best interests at heart.

The panel was moderated by Tamar Shchory, a member of the WJC Board of Governors.

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