Is it just about money?

It is about recognizing that the partnership between Israel and the Diaspora is a two-way process.

Jewish girl with Israeli flag (black and white) 311 (photo credit: (Ariel Jerozolimski))
Jewish girl with Israeli flag (black and white) 311
(photo credit: (Ariel Jerozolimski))
At the recent Annual Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) the participants reached the decision that the automatic allocation of 75 percent of its annual fundraising to the Jewish Agency for Israel was no longer acceptable. It appears that the combination of today’s economic climate and donors’ desire to be more personally involved in how their donations are utilized has resulted in a rethink by the American federations.
This thinking is shared by many individuals in the Jewish world who see the Jewish state today as being in a far stronger economic situation than their own respective countries of residence. This, together with the international media bashing of Israel, has resulted in even Diaspora Jewry turning away from Israel – a frightening fact that needs to be addressed in the most urgent manner.
A major arena where this turning away is playing out is on campuses worldwide. While we recognize that both national and Jewish leadership will emerge from universities, we, as a Jewish people, have not paid sufficient attention to an area where we are not only losing the support of our Jewish students, but finding that some are attracted to our enemies.
How has this come about? It is a combination of wealthy Arab states’ exceedingly generous funding of the faculties dealing with Middle East studies, and a marked lessening of tangible support for the Jewish student.
One cannot blame these students, who, more often than not, arrive at university devoid of the historic facts about Israel’s birth and what it was like for Jews in a world without a Jewish state. In such circumstances, it is all too easy to bury one’s head in the sand. Why bother standing up for an Israel about which they know very little? Why affiliate with a country that appears to be the “problem” in the world? Do they really want to be seen as identifying with Israel? Chances are, most certainly not.
These Jewish graduates are likely to form tomorrow’s Jewish communities. Should it not, therefore, be considered a priority to equip them with the facts rather than the biased opinion pieces and distorted negative pictures of Israel that the international media project?
How does this link with the JFNA’s decision to discontinue funding for what amounts to one-third of the Jewish Agency’s budget? The answer is that this is a clarion call for the Jewish Agency and other major Zionist organizations based in Israel to take on what the Jewish Agency’s Jerusalem Program originally set out to do: namely give the Diaspora the tools to fight both assimilation and the anti-Israel hysteria taking hold of what was traditionally the major source of support for the Jewish state. In other words, Zionism today is not only about how much money the Diaspora Jew gives to Israel, but about bringing back pride in one’s Jewish identity.
Yes, one could argue that for some, a donation to Israel is their only Jewish link – one that brings them here, where they have a chance of seeing the reality rather than the negative façade presented by the media. While this is a worthy way of retaining a connection, the truth is that fewer and fewer are coming to Israel, and more and more of Diaspora Jewry’s leadership (including the leadership of Zionist movements) is choosing to have holiday homes in other countries.
Today, we need Israel-based Zionist organizations with affiliates worldwide to pool their resources, creating a program that prioritizes an educational process especially for the younger generation. Every Zionist organization needs a Birthright scheme – to ensure that all have the opportunity to experience Israel. Jewish day schools and Zionist youth movements must attach more importance to ensuring that their pupils and members are given a strong grounding in Jewish history. A way must also be found to bring in the parents – many of whom are simply ignorant of what Israel and its population are about.
Is it just about money? No – not any longer. Now it is about recognizing that the partnership between Israel and the Diaspora is a two-way process. We are here to help each other ensure our collective future. This has to be the priority.
The writer is co-chair of Europeans for Israel. Prior to her aliya in 1998, she chaired the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, the Bnai Brith Hillel Foundation and WIZO UK.