German Jews plan to appeal to the German government next week to prevent Nativ, an Israeli government agency, from expanding into Germany, The Jerusalem Post has learned. German Jewry's central leadership institution, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, or Zentralrat, and the social services organization ZWST are concerned that the activities of Nativ, a formerly-clandestine agency that promotes aliya among Jews from the Former Soviet Union, would widen the split between Germany's "native" Jewish community - a majority of them post-war immigrants from Eastern Europe themselves - and the large group of Jews who immigrated with the fall of the Soviet Union.
Editorial: The wrong Nativ
The leadership of the two umbrella organizations is composed of these "native" Germans, who comprise 10 percent of Germany's approximately 220,000 Jews. The remainder of Germany's Jews are recent immigrants from the FSU.
Once a full-fledged member of Israel's intelligence community - with the pay scale and legal protections to match - Nativ has shrunk, following the fall of the Soviet Union, to a staff of several dozen with an uncertain purpose. Gone are the days when it served as the Israeli government's long arm behind Soviet lines, fostering Jewish education in the Communist bloc and working to bring Jews out from under the watchful eye of suspicious Soviet authorities.
Now, recently brought under the responsibility of Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Nativ is looking to grow. Previous attempts to expand into Argentina in 2000 and plans to expand into North America have been stymied by the communities' refusal to accept the organization and by the Jewish Agency's outcry over Nativ's perceived duplication of and incursion into its activities.
Last week, at a meeting hosted by Jewish Agency director-general Moshe Vigdor - to which Lieberman's director-general Hagai Peleg, Nativ director Naomi Ben-Ami and foreign ministry representatives were invited but did not attend - Vigdor and leaders of the Zentralratand the ZWST produced a letter sent to Lieberman and Ben-Ami. The letter called for the German community's relationship with the local government to be taken into account when deciding on the expansion of Nativ activities, and asked for Nativ activities in Germany to take place within the framework of Jewish Agency operations.
According to one source familiar with the German Jewish community, the Nativ expansion amounts to "a Diaspora Jewish community being organized from outside by the Israeli government." According to recommendations by an interministerial committee that has considered the expansion of Nativ activities over the past year, Nativ would operate as an independent organization, with its own emissaries and infrastructure, and would deal with organizations of FSU Jews in Germany rather than the older umbrella groups.
Following a Post query, a Strategic Affairs Ministry representative noted that, "during the [interministerial] committee's work, disturbing findings showed that the large community of FSU Jews [worldwide] is in an ongoing trend of assimilation and growing disconnect to Israel and Judaism. Also, it turns out that the scope of Zionist activity in Germany is small."
For this reason, the ministry spokesman said, "the committee agreed that FSU Jewry is an important target population for the activities of Jewish and Zionist organizations, in an attempt to block the dangerous levels of assimilation." The spokesman blamed the representatives of the German umbrella organizations - "some among German Jews" - for "making an effort to prevent the strengthening of this bond, out of a consideration of their own narrow interests that have to do with internal politics and not with the issue at hand."
Peleg refused to attend last week's meeting, the spokesman added, "because he found out three hours before the meeting that the Germans had insisted that Nativ not work in Germany at all, breaking all the understandings that had been reached." The letter produced at that meeting, however, did not categorically reject Nativ's work in Germany, the Post has learned, but called for it to take place under the auspices of the Jewish Agency.
According to the ministry spokesman, "the threat [on the part of the umbrella organizations] to turn to the German government is embarrassing and inappropriate and raises questions as to their intent. In any case, nothing will take place without the full and explicit approval of the German government."