European Jews to collaborate with US federations on Jewish identity

Bennet tells delegates Israel’s Diaspora initiative not exclusively focused on North America.

Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett and IJC President Vladimir Sloutsker. (photo credit: YOEL BALINKO / ISRAELI-JEWISH CONGRESS)
Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett and IJC President Vladimir Sloutsker.
European and American Jewish communities are set to begin collaborating on issues of mutual concern over the coming months, the Israeli-Jewish Congress and Jewish Federations of North America announced. The IJC and JFNA met Wednesday with representatives of some two dozen Diaspora communities at their second trilateral dialogue since November to discuss building closer ties between European and American Jewry.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post after the meeting, United Israel Appeal chair Richard Bernstein said that European and American Jews have three common areas of interest.
Both are concerned with “BDS [anti-Israel boycotts], dealing with anti-Semitism and dealing with Global Jewish identity and connection to Israel, particularly in the younger generation,” he said. “In each of those three, I think that there will be developed some specific programs. That’s what we’re working on right now. Its very exciting.”
A third trilateral meeting is slated to take place during the federations’ upcoming General Assembly this November in Washington.
“We have begun the process of coordinating with each other to discuss best practices, to share ideas. And we’re going to be getting together again…and we already are going to form more groups and talk about some specific projects.”
According to Michel Gourary, the CEO of the IJC, the issues of delegitimization, anti-Semitism, and assimilation are linked, with Jews uncomfortable with being attacked on issues related to Israel and unable to deal with anti-Semitism seeking to shed their Jewish identity.
Asked why the IJC, a relatively new organization on the Jewish scene, was the one to build such ties between European and North American Jewish organizations, a source familiar with the matter who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity stated that “the European Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress don’t focus much on the United States and don’t particularly see value in engaging with American Jewish organizations, because they recognize that they would be small potatoes and so it takes an upstart like IJC.
“The other organizations are neither young nor hungry and are very content to be focused on what’s happening in their own backyards and not looking to create new ties, and new alliances, and new relationships,” the source added.
Following the dialogue, the European delegates met with Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett at the Knesset to discuss the government’s new Diaspora initiative. The program, a joint initiative of the Bennet’s ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency, is intended to finance Jewish identity programs around the world to the tune of billions of dollars over the next two decades.
While representatives of several European countries were involved in the organization of the wide-ranging initiative, there is a widespread perception that it largely centered on North America, where the bulk of Diaspora Jewry lives.
Earlier this year leaders of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary, the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine and the Comité de Coordination des Organisations Juives de Belgique told the Post that they were unaware of the program and that they had not been invited to participate in the planning process.
Prior to the meeting with Bennett, Gourary said that he would push for greater European representation in the project, saying that the IJC had already approached ministers to say that, “We have at least 1.5 million Jews in Europe” and that Israel “must address the issues and concerns of those communities.”
“It’s important that the global Jewish initiative is just that,” Bernstein added, “it’s global.”
Speaking with the delegates, Bennet stated that “somehow people sometimes think that we are singularly focused on North America,” but that such a view is wrong. “Every Jewish community in the world is our responsibility.”
Bennett admitted to not knowing in which direction the newly approved initiative will go, saying that it is only in the pilot stage, but asserted that, “If we sit down together and create a dialogue” Diaspora Jewry and Israel can “work out together what the actual action plan is.”
Following the meeting, representatives of Jewish communities in both Hungary and Ukraine said that while they had not yet been contacted by the Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry, they look forward to hearing from its representatives to work out how best to implement programs through the initiative in their respective countries.