Task force to probe Diaspora investment

Olmert calls to "significantly change paradigm" of Israel's relationship with world Jewry.

olmert smiles 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert smiles 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
A new Jewish Agency committee set to be established on Tuesday will be charged with developing a serious plan to reshape the connection between Israel and Diaspora Jews. The move marks a step forward from internal government discussions in March that addressed working on changing this relationship. The Jewish Agency Board of Governors is expected to announce the new task force, called the "Committee for Strengthening the Connection to World Jewry" at a meeting in Jerusalem on Tuesday. It will be a joint Jewish Agency and government initiative. The task force is a result of a new Diaspora policy formed by the Prime Minister's Office that focuses heavily on investing in Jewish communities abroad, particularly in Jewish education. Cabinet secretary Ovad Yehezkel said the new relationship would mark a more "humble" Israeli policy toward the Diaspora. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski will presumably appoint the task force members, who will have until February 2009 to present specific recommendations. "We're going to work fast," said a PMO official. "We hope to present 99 percent of the plan already in November," at the next Board of Governors meeting and to the next United Jewish Communities General Assembly, which takes place in Jerusalem. At the opening session of the Board of Governors on Sunday morning, Olmert explained that the current relationship must change because world Jewry has changed. "Although there are islands of Jewish renaissance and creativity in many Jewish centers around the world, world Jewry is in crisis," Olmert said. He cited figures showing decreasing attachment to Israel specifically among North American youth who tend to have higher assimilation and intermarriage rates throughout the Jewish world. "Now, for the first time since the destruction of the Second Temple, Israel is the largest concentration of Jews in the world and the overwhelming majority of Jews live in security. The era of mass aliya from countries of distress may have come to a close," Olmert declared. "With new realities comes the need for a new paradigm," the prime minister continued. The old paradigm of "Diaspora as benefactor and Israel as beneficiary will no longer continue," he vowed. "For the past 60 years Israel was the project of the Jewish people, for the next 60 years the Jewish people will need to be the joint project of Israel and the Jewish people." Olmert also mentioned programs including Taglit, Masa, the Heftsiba day schools in the former Soviet Union, Morasha, and other Israel-Diaspora programs in which the government is heavily invested. "All these interventions have been episodic, and not systematic," the prime minister said, promising that "in Israel's 60th year the time has come to significantly change the paradigm." For its part, the Jewish Agency issued a statement "applauding" the prime minister's intention to significantly increase the government's "commitment, responsibility and investment in securing the future of the Jewish People."