Last night, at a gala celebration of Israel’s 75th Independence Day hosted by the Jewish Federations of North America, The Jewish Agency for Israel, the World Zionist Organization and Keren Hayesod, President Isaac Herzog announced the formation of a global council for Jewish dialogue.
Dubbed “Kol Ha’am – the Voice of the People,” the president’s effort will seek to foster a deep and meaningful conversation between Israel and the rest of the Jewish world on the most pressing issues facing the Jewish people. A “Jewish Davos,” it will aim to develop concrete proposals for the Jewish future, as well as specific action items to promote their implementation. It will also empower the younger generation of Jews by giving them a seat at the table and encouraging them to channel their talents and passion to help shape the Jewish tomorrow.
If ever there were a time for such an initiative, it is now.
Now is the time
For months, it has seemed as though Israel was coming apart at the seams. The tenor of the national debate surrounding the government’s judicial reform reached decibels seldom experienced even in a country accustomed to vociferous arguments. Protesters and counter-protesters have flooded Israel’s streets for 16 weeks, Israel’s economy ground to a standstill for a brief moment several weeks ago and Knesset committee meetings have devolved into shouting matches replete with theatrics.
Jews around the world have watched in bewilderment and horror as the country they so deeply love appeared to be tearing itself up from the inside out. Some have taken sides in the debate, demonstrating outside Israeli embassies and consulates, protesting appearances by Israeli public figures, and expressing strongly-held views on the pages of local newspapers and on social media. Major Jewish philanthropists and the leaders of some of the most important organizations in the Jewish world have expressed deep concern about the future of Israel’s democracy and the relationship between Israel and world Jewry.
It is notable that the president chose to unveil his new initiative at the very same celebratory event that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to have addressed and from which he withdrew at the last moment amid reports of protests planned to take place during his remarks. In the days leading up to the event, some Jewish leaders who had flown to Israel to participate in the World Zionist Congress and the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meetings held a demonstration outside the Supreme Court and disrupted multiple appearances by MK Simcha Rothman, a key Netanyahu ally who has been shepherding the judicial reform legislation through the Knesset committee he chairs.
If the Knesset’s Passover recess offered a brief respite from the chaos that had reigned in the country before the holiday, we now appear to be approaching an inflection point with very real consequences for the future.
A connection to Israel is a vital component of contemporary Jewish identity and what happens in Israel affects Jews around the world. If either Israeli or Jewish leaders think they can go it alone, without one another, they are sorely mistaken.
When proposals are floated to restrict egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall or limit eligibility for aliyah (immigration to Israel) under the Law of Return, when Israel appears to be retreating from its founding principles and when young Jews find themselves asking whether they ought to have a relationship with Israel they see developing before their eyes – responsible leaders must take note, step up and talk to each other.
We have long called for dialogue and compromise on judicial reform and a host of other domestic issues within Israel. It is now clear that the need for meaningful dialogue extends well beyond Israel’s borders to Jewish communities around the world. We cannot afford to talk past one another. The future of both Israel and the Jewish people depends on the strength of the connection between them, as well as on the cultivation of a new generation of leaders committed to maintaining and further strengthening that vital relationship.
We applaud the president on his critically important initiative and wish him every success in fostering the sort of deep, respectful conversation that is so sorely needed between Israel and the rest of the Jewish world.