Give the Diaspora a phone number

Who can Israel call when it needs to consult the wider Jewish world?

By PIERRE BESNAINOU
February 3, 2008 21:09
3 minute read.
Give the Diaspora a phone number

diaspora drawing 224.88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Since the founding of the State of Israel there has been a tacit consensus between the Diaspora and the Jewish state regarding their reciprocal prerogatives. On the one hand, the role of the Diaspora has been to support the legitimacy of Israel in three ways: at a human level through aliya, at a financial level through donations, and at a political level through unconditional support against Israel's detractors. At the same time, Israeli governments have always encouraged their brothers from the Diaspora to come back to their historic homeland. This balance between the Diaspora and Israel has been efficient for 60 years, allowing an overall consistency in their mutual tasks. Those responsibilities have been shared according to the fundamental idea that the Diaspora could not take part in decisions whose consequences would weigh on the Israeli people only. This rule is all the more meaningful in terms of security: since the Jews from Diaspora are exempted from waging wars, they could not decently involve Israel in wars which they would merely observe. Consequently, this position has not only been politically consistent, but also ethically fair. However, 60 years after the birth of the State of Israel, we should look back on what has been achieved. As far as the history of the Jewish people is concerned, the 20th century has been a real turning-point: for the unspeakable traumas that have been suffered as well as for the tremendous geopolitical changes such as the creation of Israel and the end of the division between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews. From now on, it seems right to conceive the global Judaism in terms of American, European, and Israeli Judaism. OUTSIDE THE shtetls and the very close-knit communities of North Africa, the Diaspora is now highly threatened by the risk of assimilation. The national communities will have neither the strength nor the means to counter this groundswell by themselves. On the other hand, a concerted action taken by the Diaspora, as well as by Israel, would have tremendous results and offer a hopeful perspective to the Jews of Diaspora, and consequently to the Jewish people as a whole. In order to tackle these issues, we need to make decisions quickly and jointly. These decisions could be put to the fore by a "Marshall Plan" supporting Jewish education. Indeed, just as considerable means have been brought into play through the Jewish Agency to promote aliya, identical resources must be released to allow Diaspora Jews to preserve their Judaism and secure its transmission. Parallel to this effort, it is also right to strengthen the centrality of Israel, increase the links between Israel and the Diaspora, and maintain a permanent and intense dialogue between the two. Finally, we may think of linking the Jews of Diaspora to the key questions developed in Israel. This idea should not trigger passionate reactions, but should be analyzed seriously and serenely. The Diaspora will never have the arrogance to speak in the name of the Israeli people. It is just that some questions - such as "Who is a Jew?"- do not involve the future of Israel only, but also that of the whole of the Jewish people. ACCORDINGLY, it would not be shocking to at least seek advice from the Diaspora before making important decisions. Though they reached opposite conclusions, I agree with the questions that Natan Sharansky and Shlomo Avineri sought to answer in their recent articles - such as "Who stands for the Diaspora?" and "What institution must Israel dialogue with?" We could actually apply to the Diaspora the remark that Henry Kissinger made about Europe: "The Diaspora - but what phone number?" It is precisely our responsibility to give a phone number to the Diaspora and create a structure that could gather together all the existing representative organizations, as well as talented Jews (philosophers, intellectuals, decision-makers), who would not be affiliated to any organization. This structure should be a consultative (not a legislative) body allowing the Diaspora to give their interpretation of key questions about the general interest of the Jewish people. The future of the Jewish people depends on the answers that we will propose to solve these essential questions. Education, the dialogue between the various Jewish communities, and the centrality of Israel: These are the bases on which we must build tomorrow's Judaism. The writer is a former president of the European Jewish Congress, and acting president of the French Jewish Social Fund.


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