Jewish Agency: Government to reboot Diaspora initiative

The project will be jointly funded by the Israeli government and Diaspora organizations.

New immigrants from Ukraine make aliya, December 30, 2014 (photo credit: REUTERS)
New immigrants from Ukraine make aliya, December 30, 2014
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The government initiative to strengthen relations with the Diaspora is going to be completely adapted in light of recent conflicts between the Jewish Agency and the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, a senior agency official claimed on Sunday.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post on condition of anonymity, the official stated that changes have been afoot since his organization pulled out of the project earlier this month.
“As for the initiative, we are going to reset the whole process and there will be very soon a meeting between the Jewish Agency leadership and the prime minister in order to discuss how exactly to relaunch the initiative,” the government mandarin told the Post.
The project will be jointly funded by the Israeli government and Diaspora organizations, and was publicly announced in late 2013 during a conference organized by the two bodies, both of which were instrumental in its conception.
It was originally touted as a new paradigm in Israel-Diaspora relations that would put aside previous patterns of mutual paternalism. Within a year, however, the working relationship between the agency and ministry degenerated into mutual recriminations and jockeying for power.
The main players, including the Prime Minister’s Office, were all slated to be represented in a new independent corporation overseeing the venture but the role of the PMO was diminished by the coalition agreement between Bayit Yehudi and the Likud.
In a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier this month, agency chairman Natan Sharansky said that “until the program is returned to its original conception and direction” he could not view it as “the joint initiative between the Government of Israel and World Jewry” and would have to pull out.
In his response, Netanyahu reaffirmed his commitment to strengthening government relations with Jewish communities abroad, calling the Jewish Agency its “historic and invaluable partner to this end.”
The successes of programs such as Birthright and Masa demonstrate “what we can accomplish when we work together,” the letter said. “We remain committed to the values and ideas of the Government of Israel Initiative, which the government and the Jewish Agency developed and launched together,” he wrote.
“I would be glad to meet with you to discuss your concerns, as per your request,” he continued, adding that he looked forward to “exploring with you how we can expand our cooperation even further.”
Commenting on the letter, the agency official said that he interpreted the Prime Minister’s missive “in diplomatic terms,” stating that he had heard and accepted the agency’s position and that Netanyahu understood that “the way things are now, the government of Israel world Jewry initiative, cannot go on as planned.”
“The company set up by the Ministry of Diaspora is not the initiative. It’s there, nobody is going to blow it up in the air as if it were the Ma’ariv bridge.
It’s there, it has its money, but it’s [a] purely Ministry of Diaspora operation. It’s a [Diaspora Affairs Minister] Bennett operation, nothing more, nothing less. Nobody should treat it as anything different. It does not represent the initiative,” he added.
Bennett’s name was intentionally left out of the prime minister’s letter in order to avoid tensions between the two coalition partners, he continued.
Asked about the exchange of letters, a source close to Bennett told the Post that Netanyahu had spoken with the Minister and “assured him that he stands behind the coalition agreement which gives the Ministry of Diaspora the mandate to move forward with the initiative.”
In a statement to the Post, the Ministry stated that it and its partners in the Jewish world will continue to move ahead with the project as planned.
“We welcome any party who is interested in taking part in this important effort to energize the Israel-Diaspora relationship.
We also welcome any and all involvement from Prime Minister Netanyahu who remains a driving force in the Initiative and its implementation,” the Ministry said.