It’s time for Israel to reconnect with Diaspora Jews

Israelis are beginning to understand the importance of the voices of their diaspora brothers and sisters.

WILL THE bonds with the Diaspora break?  (photo credit: REUTERS)
WILL THE bonds with the Diaspora break?
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The coronavirus crisis emphasizes the importance of a strong community. It brings each and every one of us to concentrate on our own geographic environment, but it also clarifies the important role of countries to protect their own population.
But these days also compel us to rethink about the Jewish peoplehood challenge. If in normal days the solidarity between Israeli and Diaspora Jews isn’t trivial, during this economic crisis, we have to remember our brothers and sisters abroad.
The current Zionist Congress and the tension revolving the political negotiations that comes with it, proves the need for a better and more stable connection between Israel and the Diaspora. There is a gap between the perception of some Israeli politicians of the way to take into consideration factors that influence the lives and identities of Jews around the world and the way it is perceived by Jewish leaders and organizations that deal with these issues.
In the beginning of the current Knesset, there was a real option on the table to dismantle the Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, a permanent committee of the Knesset, and to replace it with some other committee. Only due to a pressure campaign I have led together with partners from the Peoplehood Coalition, which is powered by the Reut Institute, it has been prevented. Gladly it has also led to a recent decision to form a subcommittee headed by MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh that will deal with Israel-Diaspora relations specifically.
Unfortunately, one committee in the Knesset is not enough to ensure that the voice of Diaspora Jews is being heard. Pivotal decisions regarding religion and state issues, such as the freezing of the Kotel deal or the conversion reform in Israel, were taken by the government and more seldom by legislation in the Knesset.
Having worked in the Knesset in the past, I can testify that these platforms rarely bring the voice of Diaspora Jews to the decision-making table. There’s always an option to make an influence in non-formal ways, but there isn’t a formal mechanism for millions of Jews that have no representation in the Knesset to make an impact.
Different polls in recent years among Israelis show that there is a greater support of Israelis for consideration of Diaspora Jews’ views regarding religion and state issues than other issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is a growing understanding among many Israelis that the meaning of being part of one Jewish nation is to at least listen to the voice of our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora when decisions affecting the Jewish identity of Israel are being made.
The upcoming General Assembly will include, among other interesting events, a panel that will deliberate on this issue: how and if at all Jews in the Diaspora should have a say regarding Israeli policy. We are working these days together with MK Tehila Friedman and other partners on a consultation model with the Diaspora Jewry regarding issues that affect them for decision-makers in the government and the Knesset. Especially in these times this model can and should bring us closer. It’s time to reconnect.
The writer is head of the Religion and State Department at Ne’emnei Torah Va’Avoda.