Many Jewish communities in the Diaspora – especially in the US – are nervous and anxious about Israel’s new government, and how it will relate to world Jewry, especially non-Orthodox world Jewry.
New Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli entered his role only a week ago and has already increased that anxiety. The son of Conservative rabbi, Chikli canceled a joint venture with an Israeli nonprofit that was supposed to create a group of peers, Israelis and unaffiliated or progressive American Jews, according to their professions.
One can argue with his claims, such as the fact that the joint venture of NIS 10 million (NIS 5m. from the ministry’s budget) was too big for such a small organization that also has no experience in this type of programming. In addition, he claimed that they signed their agreement with the ministry after the elections, when it was clear that outgoing minister Nachman Shai wouldn’t remain in his role.
But the bigger problem with the decision is that Chikli made it even before he met the professional staff at the ministry. It was quick and clumsy, and sent the opposite message that he should be trying to project to the Jewish communities in the Diaspora.
Before he dives deeper into Israel-Diaspora relations, here are 10 tips of advice for Chikli.
Meet, meet and again
The easiest way for a minister to connect with the Jewish communities in the Diaspora actually won’t cost the ministry a dime: He should meet with as many groups, leaders and young Jews as possible. In the era of Zoom, you are able to reach large or small groups of Jews across the world and make them actually feel that someone in the Israeli government is thinking of them.
Create opportunities for Israelis and Diaspora Jews to get together
The Diaspora affairs minister should work to help Israelis begin to understand Jewish life outside of Israel. This ministry has held a few successful projects in Israel, such as Community, with the Gesher organization, where hundreds of opinion leaders and decision-makers have participated in an in-depth seminar and visit in a Jewish community outside of Israel.
But so much more can be done. All of the research done in these fields has proven that joint experiences of Israelis with Diaspora Jews created greater understanding and mutual respect.
How about adding a visit to a European Jewish community, after Israeli high schools visit Poland and learn about the Holocaust? This would emphasize that Jewish life actually exists outside of Israel.
Chikli can also encourage Israelis who are visiting abroad to visit Jewish communities during their vacation or work trips. The goal should be to double the number of Israelis who meet with Diaspora Jews. Both sides will surely benefit.
Engage Israelis with Diaspora Jews
The minister can also serve as sort of an ambassador of Diaspora Jewish communities toward the Israeli government and Israeli society. When there are major issues for Jews in countries outside of Israel, a high-profile minister, as Chikli is, can create awareness among Israelis about what is going on there.
It is so important for the minister to speak up when needed; otherwise, Israelis may not ever even hear about the concerns these Jewish communities have.
Chikli knows how to speak to the younger generations of Israelis, since that’s what he’s done for years as the head of a pre-army service academy in Israel’s North.
As an eloquent speaker and a genius mind with knowledge of Zionist texts, Chikli could go on a road show across Israel and speak of the responsibilities and the opportunities that we have as a Jewish state with regard to the Diaspora.
This could especially further the understanding of Diaspora Jewry among right-wing and conservative Israelis, who many times are the ones most vocal about not understanding Jews who live outside of Israel.
Think through statements before making them
He should speak about what unites us as a nation, as opposed to what divides us.
Chikli has to understand that, outside of Israel, Jews are minorities, and they have the responsibility to also make sure that they have good relationships with their own governments. We shouldn’t reach a situation that causes them harm in their own countries.
As minister, he can speak about so many things, without having to criticize anyone or cause any large groups to feel unwelcome in Israel.
In 2023, you cannot speak in two languages, to Israel and to the international media, while saying opposite things to each one of them.
Every word should be weighed responsibly, in order not to cause harm.
Remember, Israelis don’t know everything
Leaders of Jewish organizations in the Diaspora tend to feel that Israeli leaders – no matter who they are and what background they come from – think they know better than they do. It’s mainly a cultural issue, the way that Israelis speak and act, and many times it comes from their army service. It is important to be humble, to listen and to constantly learn.
There are thousands of Jewish organizations, subgroups and Jewish streams. It can take a lifetime to be able to say that you know Diaspora Jewry. Therefore, these next few years should be dedicated to constantly learning about new phenomena, trends and types of Jewish practice.
Centralize the fight against antisemitism
Chikli announced that his ministry will focus on combating antisemitism and the delegitimization of Israel across the world. His ministry will be receiving about 20 employees from the Foreign Ministry who have dealt with these issues, and he and hopes to develop new techniques and programs.
The first and most important thing to do is to centralize the Israeli entities that are already part of this ecosystem. The number of Israeli ministries, official bodies and private organizations that deal with these issues is huge: the Diaspora Affairs, Foreign and Defense ministries, the Jewish Agency, the World Zionist Organization, Yad Vashem, the Anti-Defamation League, StandWithUs, think tanks, academic institutions and Israeli firms that advise on issues of security. All of these players need to meet regularly and discuss the threats as well as ways to combat them.
We haven’t even started to mention the organizations outside of Israel that deal with combating antisemitism and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. It is a huge ecosystem with a disproportionate amount of funds.
Chikli should try to see how he can get more people on the same page, spend less and be more effective. There should be an annual roundtable of all of these organizations, as well as constant dialogue between all of the players.
As mentioned, Chikli is a hard-core Zionist. He’s also young, he served in an elite army unit, and has a way with words. A challenge outside of Israel is that the term “Zionism” is considered many times as negative or violent. Chikli can try to rebrand the name of the movement that established the Jewish state in many cool and sexy ways: seminars, up-to-date online content, cool merchandise and tours across Europe in the footsteps of the leaders of modern Zionism.
The Zionist federations in most countries have disappeared or are on the way to extinction. There needs to be a rejuvenation of Zionist ideas outside of Israel, or else we will lose the little that we already have. The Zionist youth movements outside of Israel are some of the most important and valuable organizations outside of Israel. They focus on connecting the younger generations of Jews to Israel in the most creative ways possible.
No matter whether it’s a Bnei Akiva or Ramah camp, Zionism is present and delivered in a large quantity. These movements barely get funding from the Israeli government, and this is a huge mistake.
Build the next level of activity in the ministry
As opposed to the first decision that was made, canceling a joint venture, it’s important for every minister to first go through all of the existing activities that the ministry has, before jumping to conclusions. At times, to change or alter an existing program is easier and more effective than to create a new one.
The Diaspora Affairs Ministry has so many existing projects, more than it ever had. There is Mosaic United, which promotes projects in the fields of informal education around the world; the United initiative for formal education; Momentum – the Birthright for moms; Ami, a joint venture with Gesher to educate Israelis about Diaspora Judaism; and there are many more. There are so many things to do with the existing projects, and therefore Chikli should first get to know them.
Open up to the whole world
Chikli’s parents made aliyah from France, and his father is a Conservative Israeli rabbi. This background and his life experience can help him open up to Jews from many backgrounds. He understands French but doesn’t yet feel comfortable enough to speak the language. This can help him connect Israel with Jewish communities that have been neglected for decades.
Everyone always automatically thinks that the American Jewish community is the only one that needs attention and assistance, but French Jewry is the second largest group of Jews outside of Israel. There are also further countries, such as in the southern hemisphere and in Latin America, that are in great need for assistance and the acknowledgment of official Israeli leaders.
Engage with haredim abroad
As the years go by, some of our most vocal supporters outside of Israel are haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews. As a country, we’ve barely invested in the relationship with them and tried to connect them to Israel’s culture and ideals. They aren’t your classic Zionists, but they are Zionists, just in a different way.
In many communities they are also the future leadership, and they need the proper training and connections in order for them to succeed and thrive. If Israel is able to identify the future leadership of the haredi communities abroad, it can strategically ensure that leadership’s support in the future. •