While young American Jews may criticize the State of Israel, the fact that they are even voicing their opinions about Israel’s internal affairs “shows that they care very much about Israel,” said Nerya Meir, head of the Diaspora department at the World Zionist Organization (WZO) at a panel at The Jerusalem Post’s Annual Conference on Monday.
“It’s like a family,” said Meir. “In family, you don’t need to agree about everything. In Israeli society, we know that we have different voices, but we have a common denominator.”
The WZO official expressed disagreement with a past statement by former Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, in which the former ambassador encouraged a focus on strengthening connections with the pro-Israel evangelical community, stating, “If we look at Israel’s strategy, policy and interests, maybe Ron Dermer is right, but this is not the picture.”
“Israel was established under the principle of the Jewish nation and this is the meaning,” he said. “This is more important than to move the embassy now or to do something for Israeli policy.”
"Israel was established under the principle of the Jewish nation and this is the meaning; this is more important than to move the embassy now or to do something for Israeli policy."Nerya Meir
Meir added that, while the WZO and other organizations have focused mostly on Jewish day schools in the past 20 years, only about 16% of Jewish children in America are actually in these day schools, meaning that the vast majority of Jewish children aren’t being reached.
“We think that it’s time to shift the focus and start working with the 84% of kids who are in public schools. The biggest challenges we have today, the younger generation, the assimilation, the disconnect to Israel and the sometimes weak Jewish identity is coming from this field of public school kids,” said the WZO official, pointing to new programs the organization is building to focus on this sector.
A 'paradigm shift' in Israel-Diaspora relations
During the panel, titled “Building Bridges: The Diaspora and Israel,” Diaspora Affairs Ministry Director-General Tziona Koenig-Yair stressed that there has been a “paradigm shift” in how the Israeli government relates to the Diaspora in recent years.
“What do we mean when we say there’s a paradigm shift?” said the director-general. “We mean that the government has Israeli-Jewish relations on its agenda, that we are investing resources – which isn’t only money, by the way – it’s thinking about what does it mean to reconnect Jews all over the world to an Israeli homeland and it means connecting and fostering relationships all over the world.”
According to the Diaspora Affairs Ministry official, the government of Israel has invested nearly NIS 3 billion over the past decade in building relationships with Diaspora Jewry.
Koenig-Yair pointed out that aliyah is not a part of the ministry’s strategy, as that is handled by the Aliyah and Integration Ministry.
'El Al born for the Diaspora'
Marc Cavaliere, senior vice president of the Americas at El Al, stressed that the airline was “one of the main reasons El Al was to born was to serve the Diaspora.”
“El Al was founded and started to take Israel to the world and bring the world to Israel,” said Cavaliere. “We are, from the very beginning, intertwined with the history of the nation. El Al’s very first flight and the reason the airline was created was to bring Israel’s first president [Chaim Weizmann] into Israel, who had been residing in Geneva. That’s the history of where the airline started in 1948.”
The El Al senior vice president stressed that, no matter the situation, El Al has been the reliable bridge, the dependable link to the world, and has continued to be there even in the tough times for the past 75 years.