Lawmakers launch new caucus on Diaspora affairs

“We hope to send a message that ties between Israel and the Diaspora are paramount,” MK Nachman Shai says.

Knesset 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Knesset 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Over a dozen lawmakers from across the political divide launched a new caucus at the Knesset on Tuesday with the aim of fostering relations with the Diaspora.
“We hope to send a message that ties between Israel and the Diaspora are paramount,” MK Nachman Shai (Kadima) said on behalf of those gathered in the room, whose opinions on Diaspora issues are not always in synch.
Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky said during the meeting that the country’s existence ensured Jewish continuity in the US through a myriad of projects like Masa, which brings young Diaspora Jews on short visits to Israel.
“Suddenly they realize that without the Jewish state, they have no chance of having Jewish grandchildren,” said the former lawmaker, who was instrumental in setting up the new caucus.
But not everyone agreed.
MK Moshe Gafni of the non-Zionist United Torah Judaism Party said it was not the State of Israel per se that was key to Jewish continuity, but the gathering of Jewish people in Israel.
“The Jews in Boro Park are fine and will continue to be Jewish no matter what,” said the lawmaker, referring to the primarily ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn neighborhood. “It’s the watered-down Judaism of Reform Jews that is problematic. It doesn’t work.”
Nonetheless, Gafni said he had a “soft spot” for Jewish America and was proud to be part of the caucus because the Diaspora was important to him.
Such conflicting opinions are hardly new, but lawmakers said it would not hinder the work of the nascent political forum.
Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein said the diversity of ideas on Diaspora issues enriched the discourse.
“Our pluralism is the best export to the Diaspora, and that manifests itself in the Knesset,” he said. “Look at all the different lawmakers, religious or not, that we have here.”
While the new caucus hopes to be a forum for lawmakers to discuss ties with the Diaspora, there is no shortage of such forums already, such as the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs and its subcommittee.
But Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin, who chairs the caucus, said his group would be a place where lawmakers across the political spectrum could meet to coordinate strategy.
“The more we deal with this issue, the better,” said Independence MK Einat Wilf.