Think tank offers roadmap for Israel-Diaspora relations

Jewish People Policy Institute releases results of year-long dialogue with more than 700 participants world-wide.

American Jews marching in New York with Israeli flags. How can we bridge the divide between Israel and the Diaspora? (photo credit: REUTERS)
American Jews marching in New York with Israeli flags. How can we bridge the divide between Israel and the Diaspora?
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On the eve of Israel’s 70th Independence Day, the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) has released a new framework for Israel-Diaspora relations, which includes a recommendation that Israel consult with Jewish leaders “on decisions having to do with culture or religion.”
The framework is the result of a yearlong structured dialogue process, which this past year was conducted for the fifth time, in communities throughout the Jewish world.
In the dialogue process, participants were given a chart to review, with the aim of outlining principles and points of consensus on major issues that stand between Israel and the Diaspora. The discussions related to the chart were preceded by a brief review of the 1950 Ben-Gurion-Blaustein Agreement that laid a groundwork for Israel-Diaspora relations.
Participants were asked to update various sections of the agreement, in line with their understanding of 21st-century realities.
One of the main recommendations is that Israel take Diaspora Jews into consideration when formulating Israeli policies that have ramifications for world Jewry, while advising that Diaspora communities aspire to interact with all parts of Israeli society and exercise “appropriate caution with regard to major involvement in the political plane.”
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The think tank also urges Diaspora players to avoid discourse that focuses on increasing the distance between Israel and the Diaspora, warning that such discourse may “itself generate distancing.”
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There was increased talk of a widening gap between Israel and the Diaspora this past year with regard to obstacles to religious pluralism in Israel, particularly pertaining to the Western Wall and conversion, which deeply upset some prominent figures in the Diaspora, mostly in the US.
One of the main findings of the dialogue was that the “distancing” discourse is gaining currency. Today’s prevailing opinion, particularly in the Diaspora, is that Israel and Diaspora Jewry are growing apart. This view is more common among older Jews than among younger Jews, according to the findings.
Nevertheless, the JPPI said the relationship with Israel is still a significant and irreplaceable element for affiliated Diaspora Jews.
For Israel’s part, the JPPI says it should avoid “political criticism of Diaspora Jewry” and define the activities Israel views as beyond the red line of legitimate Diaspora criticism.
Israel should avoid “condemning insults directed at Diaspora Jews or expressions of arrogance toward them,” the JPPI report said. No specific examples were mentioned in the press release, however, one comment that infuriated many people was that of Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who said last year that US Jews are “people who never send their children to fight for their country” and “most of them are having quite convenient lives.”
The researchers said that while engaged in critical discourse on policy related to religion and state in Israel, Diaspora Jews should be aware of, and attentive to, Israeli sensitivities in situations that are subject to international criticism and take into account that public criticism may cause Israeli alienation from Diaspora Jewry.
JPPI expressed concern that organizations that use public goading of Israel as a means of organizational, philanthropic or community advancement are causing damage that may erode Israelis’ attachment to Diaspora Jewry. JPPI urged Israel to “regularly take measures designed to show solidarity with Diaspora Jewry” and encouraged Diaspora leaders to reinforce Israel attachment in their communities, especially in the younger generation.
The Israel-Diaspora dialogue should, the conclusions state, focus on reinforcing shared interests, creating joint projects, and identifying a shared and relevant cultural platform.
In creating the report, discussions were held in dozens of communities around the world with more than 700 participants .JPPI formulated the framework presented Sunday, which will be followed by a detailed report with further findings and recommendations in the coming weeks.
JPPI president Avinoam Bar Yosef said: “Israel and the Jewish Diaspora are strategic assets for one another. The Jewish world’s efforts should be directed at enlarging the tent, and at the same time agree on the red lines beyond which mutual respect and responsibility come under assault.”
JPPI’s fifth dialogue was headed by senior fellows Shmuel Rosner and Dr. John Ruskay with the assistance of Dan Feferman, Dr. Dov Maimon, Prof. Uzi Rebhun, Adar Schieber and Noah Slepkov. It was supported by the William Davidson Foundation.