Israel must not decide alone

Jerusalem is an integral part of identity of the entire Jewish people.

sharansky 63 (photo credit: )
sharansky 63
(photo credit: )
In my nine years in Israeli governments, I served as a minister in several different offices. In each case, the coalition negotiations needed to obtain each position were arduous, at times even exhausting. There was only one position that I received as a freebie, for it was uncontested: the role of chairman of the Interministerial Committee on Diaspora Affairs. Indeed, why should there be a struggle over a position with no budget, no appointments, and no political influence or importance? True, the committee deals with an important subject - dialogue and coordination of efforts with Diaspora Jewry. But whom does this really interest? It was no surprise, therefore, that the question of how a given decision might influence the Jews of the Diaspora hardly ever came up in cabinet deliberations. And if it did, it was only in the context of how the decision might influence aliya. All the more ridiculous was the idea of including Diaspora representatives in the process of any decision-making. Today, as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government is about to begin negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas on key issues, including the fate of Jerusalem, the debate over the role of the Diaspora Jews in the process of decision-making is becoming all the more heated. But the real question is much broader: Does the State of Israel belong only to those who live in it and thus is the state of all its citizens, or was it established, as well, to ensure the continuity of all the Jewish people and the ingathering of Zion? In his open letter to Olmert, Ronald Lauder, Chairman of the World Jewish Congress, called upon the prime minister to consult with the Jews of the Diaspora before the government of Israel makes a decision about the future of Jerusalem. In response, Shlomo Avineri, in an op-ed in this newspaper, rejected the call and repeated the well-known two-part thesis: 1. We are a sovereign state; and 2. Who are you anyway, you who purport to represent the Diaspora? Perhaps in your great audacity you will also insist on being consulted on such questions as "Who is a Jew?" and on matters relating to religion and state? SHLOMO AVINERI deliberately introduced these questions to illustrate an absurd extreme, but in my view, they are not absurd at all. On the contrary: It was precisely issues such as "Who is a Jew?" that finally made Israel's leadership understand the impossibility of making such decisions without taking into account the opinions of Diaspora Jewry. The Ne'eman Commission, which I had the honor of coordinating with as a government representative, spent many hours in discussions with Diaspora representatives. There was no one single elected body with whom it was possible to debate and make decisions. At times it was representatives of movements and umbrella organizations; at times this synagogue or that federation. The compromise reached in the end did not give the feeling of triumph to anyone. But, rather, it took into account the existential concerns of many different communities and, in so doing, gave them a feeling of involvement in a decision so crucial to them. Among the decisions that could affect the future of our entire people, for good or bad, the future of Jerusalem is perhaps the most prominent. Jerusalem is not just the capital of a sovereign state. It is an integral part of the identity of the entire Jewish people. Thousands of years of prayers, tears and hope; of yearning for Jerusalem - as embodied in the timeless pledge, "If I forget thee O Jerusalem may my right hand wither" - all these reflect the unique place of Jerusalem in the Jewish heart. We Jews of Russia felt this special place, the heart of our identity, when Motta Gur's cry, "The Temple Mount is in our hands!" pierced the Iron Curtain and stirred us from our slumber. THERE IS no doubt that the State of Israel has the right to make decisions about the future of Jerusalem. But neither is there any doubt that a possible decision of the State of Israel - for the first time in Jewish history - to give up on the very core of the Holy City will influence the history of generations of Jews, their relationship with the Jewish people and their sense of common destiny. To those who doubt that, indeed, the very core of the city is at stake, I would recommend recalling what happened at Camp David, when the representatives of the State of Israel revealed their willingness to relinquish the Temple Mount and the controversy was primarily about who would guard the Western Wall - the IDF or multi-national forces, with Jews having access by organized transportation. It is easy to be cynical about the lack of recognized leadership among Diaspora Jewry. But just as in the case of the Ne'eman Commission, the Jews of the Diaspora have the right to participate in such a way that decision makers are required to take their opinion into account. No more - but also no less - because, otherwise, the only decisive voice that will be heard in discussions of the fate of the Jewish people will be the argument for the survival of the coalition. The last time the fate of Jerusalem was on the negotiating table was seven years ago at Camp David. When Arafat heard the proposal for dividing the city, he declared that since Jerusalem belonged to all Arabs and Muslims, he had no right to make the decision about the relinquishment alone - and therefore needed to consult the Arab and Muslim League. A short while afterwards, when I received a phone call from Ehud Barak (I was not the only politician he was calling from Camp David), I asked him: "Why is it that Arafat feels that Jerusalem belongs to all the Arabs? Why does he feel obliged to consult the entire Arab nation, while the government of Israel recognizes no such sense of obligation toward its people, and does not feel the need even to consult Diaspora Jewry about such a fatal decision? Unfortunately, I am still waiting for an answer. The writer, chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies, served as minister and deputy prime minister of Israel in successive governments.