The Diaspora relationship

But what about the Diaspora Jewish community? How much can and should they weigh in on positions and policies conducted by the Israeli government?

April 15, 2019 23:41
3 minute read.
Yair Lapid, Chairman of the Yesh Atid party voting

Yair Lapid, Chairman of the Yesh Atid party voting. (photo credit: MOR SHIMONI)


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Israel has long thrived due to an ongoing partnership between Israeli and Diaspora Jews. The country couldn’t have survived or been built without the efforts and aid, both financial and physical, of world Jewry.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has more than once said that as prime minister of the Jewish state, he speaks for all Jews worldwide. And likewise, Jews around the world should feel like they have a vested interest in Israel and how it’s changing and developing.

Last week, Israel experienced a wondrous event, one not seen anywhere else in the region: democracy.

Despite the usual disruptions – and the disturbing instance of the clandestine cameras the Likud installed in Arab voting locations – the elections worked.

After 15 weeks of screaming and shouting – of political mudslinging, back-door deals and tendentious videos – it was all over, and the quiet voice of 4,306,520 individuals weighed in and decided who should be passing laws and who should be forming a coalition.

Not everyone was happy, neither here in Israel nor around the world – as to be expected. Yair Lapid, No. 2 of the Blue and White Party, said it outright: “I want to let the Likud know, the coalition members know, that we are going to make your lives miserable.”

We do not believe that the objective of Knesset parties outside the coalition is to make the life of the ruling coalition “miserable.” As former minister Yossi Beilin responded this week: “The main mission of a parliamentary opposition is to present an alternative to the government’s policies, to expose the injustice and unworthy conduct of those who rule... a true opposition knows when to vote with the government and when to agree with its policies. Not only is it fair to do so, it bolsters the opposition’s credibility when its members take a stance against the government.”

So it should be: voice criticism and present an alternative. Such is the mandate given to citizens of Israel, all of whom have a stake in what the Knesset and government are able to execute.

But what about the Diaspora Jewish community? How much can and should they weigh in on positions and policies conducted by the Israeli government?

The perennial question is immediately relevant following two letters that were sent after Election Day. Nine Jewish organizations sent a letter to US President Donald Trump, asking him to oppose an attempt by Netanyahu to annex settlements in the West Bank.

As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency noted, “The letter is unusual, if not unprecedented, in mainstream Jewish groups pleading with a US president to take steps to restrain an Israeli prime minister.”

What’s even more unusual is that the groups didn’t instead send their letter to the source – Netanyahu.

Around the same time, JStreet sent a letter to its mailing list, decrying the efforts of Blue and White, and calling for “a new and more effective Israeli Left.”

Both instances demonstrate that Diaspora Jewry is trying to balance on a tightrope, but falling to the other side. It is essential and welcome for Jews worldwide to express their concerns. However, publicly criticizing Israel and appealing to a foreign leader to take action against the Jewish state is far more than that.

While recognizing the deep and everlasting kinship between Israeli and Diaspora Jews, people living outside Israel should think twice before dictating how the country should manage its security and diplomatic affairs.

This does not mean that Jewish peoplehood is just a fundraising slogan for Federations. Diaspora Jews must be made to feel that Israel is also their home – and if current government policies on marriage and divorce, conversion, and praying at the Western Wall make them feel rejected, unwanted and marginalized, they should speak up. The Kotel belongs to all Jews, and as we have argued here many times, a solution must be found so every Jew can pray there freely.

The results of the elections in Israel last week gave expression to who the Israeli people want to represent them and what policies they would like to see enacted.

Jews around the world do not have to agree. But before criticizing, they should pause for a moment to recognize the amazing feat that has just taken place: A country – just 70 years old – has once again held a fair, free and democratic election.

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