Examining the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry - opinion

Left and Right, religious and secular, we have become too pedantic toward Diaspora Jewry. We have not paid sufficient attention to almost half of our people who do not live in the Jewish state.

American and Israeli Jews [Illustrative] (photo credit: REUTERS)
American and Israeli Jews [Illustrative]
(photo credit: REUTERS)
 The relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry is at a crossroads. Gilad Kariv’s entrance into the Knesset, the implications of the coronavirus on communities abroad, and the possibility that a government will be formed without the ultra-Orthodox makes this the time to reevaluate the issue.
Against this backdrop, the time has come for us to examine and understand the importance of the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry over the years.
During World War I, approximately 50,000 Jews served in the Armed Forces, 10,000 of whom were killed in battle. The Jewish Legion was established – Hebrew battalions that helped conquer Palestine from the Turks.
In accordance with the Balfour Declaration, which was the result of Dr. Chaim Weizmann’s efforts as well as political and economic pressure from the Jews of England, the United Kingdom became the object of hope for the Zionist movement. Until World War II almost all the Jews of Britain belonged to a synagogue ,which served as the public center for the community. 
The community operated cemeteries and “Sunday schools,” institutions for Jewish and Hebrew studies. Several thousand students studied in these institutions at that time. In 1840, in response to the Damascus affair, representatives of synagogues and other Jewish institutions formed the Board of Deputies, an institution that represented British Jews, and which was recognized by the government. The Board of Deputies became Zionist during the Mandate period. More than once, the Jews in Britain found themselves in conflict between their support and loyalty to the kingdom and their desire for the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.
The power of Diaspora Jewry can also be seen in the fascinating story of November 29. The decisive vote of the UN General Assembly on the end of the British Mandate and the division of Israel into two states, Jewish and Arab, was scheduled to take place on Wednesday, November 26, 1947. It was clear to everyone that the majority was in favor of the division, but the Zionist representatives struggled to procure the required two-thirds of the vote, until Moshe Sharett, who led the political struggle at the UN, and American Zionist leaders Nahum Goldman and Abba Hillel Silver consulted in the hallway.
They moved to extend the discussions into the night, ultimately postponing them by another day so as not to interfere with US Thanksgiving. Throughout this additional day, Sharett and his men worked hard, asking Jewish millionaire Bernard Baruch, a close associate of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman to persuade the (Jewish) editors of The New York Times to publish an article calling out those who were not supporting the division, even though those editors held a different opinion.
The Zionists put pressure on their friends among the American government and the economic elite. Harvey Firestone, a tire and rubber tycoon with franchises in Liberia, addressed Liberian president William Tubman, who instructed his UN representative to support the partition. During Thanksgiving, Goldman called Adolf Berl, former aide to the US secretary of state, and asked him to persuade Haitian president Dumarsais Estime. Berl soon received a telegram assuring that instructions had been sent to the delegation to support the division.
We have seen similar examples of influential Jewish mobilization and support in Latin America, Belgium and France to name a few.
Similarly, on the Israeli timeline, from the Suez crisis through the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, we have seen the support of Diaspora Jewry in economic aid programs and in votes in various parliaments. Diaspora Jewry sided with Israel even when there were disagreements on policy.
I have to ask, how much could we gain if that same mobilization and support were extended to us today?
Left and Right, religious and secular, we have become too pedantic toward Diaspora Jewry. We have not paid sufficient attention to almost half of our people who do not live in the Jewish state. We have moved away from them in recent years, and perhaps thanks to COVID, we now have an opportunity to mend this rift. We have a chance to better understand that we in the Jewish state have a duty toward our brethren overseas.
As part of the Am Olam conference of the Makor Rishon newspaper, I was asked to address the Israeli Right and Diaspora Jewry. I was sorry to say that this is an issue that ranges from problematic to non-existent. I tried to find a bill related to Diaspora Jewry by right-wing Knesset members, and my efforts bore no fruit. 
The Israeli Right is made up of ultra-Orthodox, national Orthodox, religious, less religious, settlers, liberal secularists and others. This group, perhaps out of fear of disrupting the unity, did not go into depth on the questions that bother Diaspora Jewry. To some extent the result is the weakening of AIPAC and the establishment of J Street.
There are quite a few knitted kippot in key positions on the bridge between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, the Zionist Congress, the Jewish Agency and others. Their insights and their conclusions are not reflected at home. The Reform and the Conservative are getting a cold shoulder. Many of us right-wingers kept silent when these groups were attacked by our partners in the bloc.
But now the coronavirus era can serve as an impetus for moral reckoning, launching new conversations. For decades, Israel has relied on Diaspora Jewry. It now appears that Diaspora Jewry must also rely on and seek help from Israel. The Right must project a clearer, stronger voice about reciprocity and the degree of responsibility involved.
In recent years, the Israeli Right has chosen a belligerent stance toward progressive Diaspora Jewry, blaming all of our problems on them. The New Israel Fund, BDS, marking products, assimilation, these are the culprits. But we have never stopped to ask ourselves, could we also be to blame?
As a religious person who wears a kippah, I am aware of the halachic challenges, of the problems that will arise in the conflict between the currents. At the same time, I am also aware of the need to have conversations, to build bridges and to refuse to rest until we have established true dialogue.
Life in the Diaspora is not like life in Israel. And both the religious and the secular Right must now act courageously. The Left may feel comfortable in the discourse that they have created with progressive Judaism, but we cannot leave this issue to them.
Maintaining our connection with the various Jewish communities in the Diaspora must be a strategic, national goal. Of course we want them to make aliyah, but we must also publicly acknowledge the contributions they make from their presence in the Diaspora. We must therefore commit to having respectful conversations with them, to being open and willing to help them and be present for them.
We must introduce dialogue that does not keep track of who is with us or against us, the size of their kippah, their community affiliation or their political positions. We must adopt Menachem Begin’s declaration of “Jews are brothers.”
On the High Holy Days and fast days we say the prayer of Avinu Malkeinu, Our Father our King. Among other things, we ask “Our Father our King act for the sake of those who died by fire and water for the sanctification of your name.” One of the rabbis of the city of Tel Aviv explained the need to mention both water and fire. “In fire, the body disappears, and the spirit remains. In water there is a body, you see it with your eyes, but there is no spirit in it.”
There were nations who, like the water, tried to take our spirit and keep our bodies, and there were those like in the Holocaust who wanted us to physically disappear. And yet neither of these surpass the mechanism of self-destruction called assimilation. We know how to judge the nations of the world for their silence and failure to act during the Holocaust, but what can we say about our own failure to act in the fight against assimilation?
In a survey conducted prior to the conference, a vast majority of respondents identified themselves as religious/ultra-Orthodox/traditional /right-wing, and were in favor of mobilizing to vaccinate Jews around the world. An absolute majority were willing for the skies to remain open to Jews during the pandemic. They supported continued Jewish immigration during the coronavirus.
Unfortunately, only about half of this group said they were prepared to use their tax money to fund Jewish education in communities abroad. If we refuse to partner in the fight against assimilation, can we lament over those who assimilate?
If we refuse to partner in building Jewish identity and fostering connection to Israel, can we demand that Diaspora Jews be committed to Israel and the Jewish state?
Article 6 of the Nation-State Law, which caused so much noise in the media, states “Israel will work to preserve the bond between the state and the Jewish people, and will work to preserve the historical and religious cultural heritage of the Jewish people among Diaspora Jewry.” The survey demonstrates how little emphasis the Right puts on this section.
COVID-19, the establishment of a new government, the presence of a Reform representative in Knesset, these can be turning points in the internal discourse of the Right. There has been a revolution, and there is mutual exchange between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. There are times when we Israelis need help from Diaspora Jews, their job is not over! And there will be times when those in the Diaspora need Israel.
The Right, which is naturally more connected to Orthodox tradition, must learn to talk to and accept Diaspora Jewry. Even when we disagree, we must learn to leave an opening, to continue the conversation. The Israeli Right must recalculate its course. We must move from a place of being involved in the day-to-day work of building the bridge to becoming those who are leading both the public discourse and the political system.
The writer is the mayor of Efrat.