The Diaspora Affairs Ministry under the leadership of Amichai Chikli has succeeded in obtaining the largest budget in the ministry’s history – NIS 500 million.
Chikli told The Jerusalem Post’s Zvika Klein last week that his staff is looking for solutions to the tuition crisis in American Jewish schools and the educational crisis of Jewish schools worldwide, regarding Jewish education and Hebrew studies.
“The main effort, [in order] to have strong Jewish communities, is to empower education with successful [educational] initiatives,” he said, repeating his theory that he sees the Diaspora Affairs Ministry as “a venture capital.”
“We are looking for the most relevant players, the most dynamic, energetic players on the ground and we want to empower them; we cannot replace them. We don’t know the challenges of the Jewish community in Chile better than they know them. They know better than us. We don’t know the challenges of the Jewish community in Houston, Texas – they know better than us.”
This all sounds promising and hopeful and we wish Minister Chikli and his staff the best of success in implementing these plans. The readiness to listen to Jewish communities – as the minister said – is important but it cannot just be about their needs when it comes to education and Hebrew studies within their communities.
A day after Chikli spoke about his ministry’s plans, Chairman of the Jewish Agency Doron Almog broke his longstanding policy of silence and said that “Reform and Conservative Jews openly say that they do not feel discrimination [in the US] like they do here in Israel.
“The State of Israel is the national state of the entire Jewish people,” Almog said, saying that this includes “the ones who live in Zion and the ones who are in the Diaspora, from all [religious] streams in Judaism.”
Almog mentioned that there are about 3 million Reform and Conservative Jews in the US. He revealed that he receives many letters from Reform and Conservative Jews, “with concerns and fears. They openly say that in the US there may be antisemitism, but they do not feel discrimination [in the US] like they do here in Israel.”
Almog, a former IDF general, took up his role at the Jewish Agency in August, seven months ago. In the time since, he has barely spoken or given interviews, maintaining a strict silence despite the rift that is growing wider between Israel and the Diaspora, which the Jewish Agency is meant to represent within the country.
It is important that Almog has finally made his voice heard. Israelis might be hyper focused right now on the terrorism that has been plaguing our streets, as well as the ongoing parliamentary and public battles over the coalition’s judicial reform, but we cannot pretend that this will not impact our relationship with Jews in the Diaspora. It will and it already is.
When the country appears to be sliding away from being a liberal democracy, many Jews question their connection with this country. When senior ministers call to wipe out an entire Palestinian village because a terrorist attack took place on a road there, that deepens the question.
And while we welcome the decision to allocate NIS 500m. to programming through the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, we cannot pretend that this is enough. The connection is not just about Israel putting money into helping to fund informal education programs or tuition at Jewish day schools across the globe.
Those are all important, but when progressive Jews feel that they are discriminated against in Israel and that the country is moving away from its democratic foundations, something more needs to be done.
There is a second option: understanding the consequences and living with them. Israel’s government can move ahead with its assault on the judiciary and pluralistic Jewish life but it needs to know that there will be a price.
We need to ask if it is worth it.