(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
As we report in today's Jerusalem Post, German Jewry's two umbrella organizations, the welfare organization ZWST and political group Zentralrat, are threatening to turn to the German government to prevent the entrance into Germany of Nativ, an organization working at the behest of Minister for Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman. How did we reach a point where the local Jewish community is taking the extraordinary step of going to its own government to block an Israeli government policy?
The predicament for German Jewry's leaders is complex. The leaderships of the two umbrella organizations are composed mostly of "native" Germans, representing some 10% of Germany's 220,000 Jews. The remaining 90% of Germany's Jews are immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, and the tensions between the two parts of the Jewish community, particularly in Berlin, can run high.
At the same time, for Nativ, the planned move into Germany represents what may become lifesaving new activity for the formerly-clandestine aliya organization that has seen the closed gates of Soviet emigration policy - whose circumvention was Nativ's raison d'etre - burst open. In the new aliya realities of the post-Soviet world, with "aliya by choice" dominating the thinking on how to bring Jews to Israel, Nativ's model of quiet dissemination of Zionist ideals and experience in semi-clandestine Jewish identity education is seen by many as anachronistic and irrelevant. An organization that once ran far-reaching international networks of hundreds of agents and liaisons now has just a few dozen staffers, mostly working in Tel Aviv or in cultural centers in Eastern Europe.
But what is good for Nativ may not be good for the Jewish people. The threat by German Jewish leaders to turn to the German government against an Israeli government decision to send Nativ into Germany signals that there may be more at stake than may appear on the surface. And, indeed, the idea of sending Nativ into Germany is misconceived in so many ways, it's hard to know where to begin.
For a start, Nativ has already let it be known that it will not work with the established and government-recognized institutions of the German Jewish community, but rather with the immigrant groups of the FSU. In doing so, as the leaders of the ZWST and Zentralrat rightly fear, the Israeli government is essentially planning to place itself on one side of an internal debate in an autonomous Diaspora Jewish community.
Furthermore, the decision of the Israeli government to recognize communal institutions different from those recognized by the government of the country in which those Jews live is an irresponsible embarrassment and unnecessary political complication for the local Jewish community.
At a time when Western European Jewry is concerned over its institutions being taken over by East European interests - as brought to the fore most recently in the victory of Russian Jewish billionaire Moshe Kantor against French incumbent Pierre Besnainou in the elections to the presidency of the European Jewish Congress - it is irresponsible for the Israeli government to exacerbate these concerns.
Finally, in a government that is suddenly pronouncing itself strapped for budgets and is working to pass large, across-the-board cuts in almost ministry, the expansion of the state budget for activities that duplicate - but cannot match - those of the Jewish Agency seems immensely wasteful and foolish.
This is particularly so when such activities are much more naturally carried out by the Jewish Agency, which is structured as an independent, non-governmental organization for the purpose. It makes little sense either from a government budget point of view or from the perspective of Diaspora communities to artificially insert an obsolete branch of the Israeli government into this picture.
Those upset with Nativ's intended expansion worry that its new assignment comes primarily as a means to maintain an institution offering jobs for political cronies. It is certainly hard to see a serious justification for the Israeli government's stubborn decision to so upset a Diaspora Jewish community. If Nativ's detractors are right, this is doubly worrisome and an urgent rethink is required.