Sharansky: Masa ad campaign was 'insensitive'
The two main parts of the Jewish people treat each other with a patronizing attitude, creating serious problems for the whole people, Jewish Agency chairman Nathan Sharansky told Anglo File yesterday in interview about a new policy paper for bringing U.S. Jews closer to Israelis.
Sharansky - who said he endorsed the policy paper which proposes to train all relevant Agency staffers about U.S. Jewry - called the airing in Israel this week of a controversial campaign to prevent "loss" of Jews to assimilation a case of "Israeli insensitivity to the sensibilities of U.S. Jews."
"Each of these two groups believes it is the genuine representative of the Jewish People," Sharansky said about Israeli Jews and coreligionists in the Diaspora. "Some Israelis tend to think of Diaspora Jews as potential benefactors who are a passing phenomenon before they all immigrate to Israel, while some Diaspora Jews think of Israelis as the poor and underdeveloped relations."
The first step toward correcting that, Sharansky said, is to implement the policy paper by Ed Rettig, the Israel director of the American Jewish Committee, who recently submitted to Sharansky his plan for a series of educational steps to teach Israelis about North American Jewry and visa versa.
"I think the policy paper exaggerates when it talks of Israeli Jewry and U.S. Jewry as two separate entities, but the danger is there," Sharansky said. He noted the controversial anti-assimilation campaign by MASA - a long-term Israel program established by the Jewish Agency in 2003 - accentuated the difference in "the terminology" favored by the two communities.
"The MASA campaign has made it clear that in addressing this issue, one needs to find words that do not push anyone away," he elaborated. "Attacking mixed marriages generates a very negative reaction when the phenomenon is so widespread. It makes the other side unreceptive to the message, even if many U.S. Jews themselves see intermarriage as a danger."
The need to train Israeli officials on Diaspora affairs can be seen in many "small everyday misunderstandings that put strains on the relationship," Sharansky said. "For example, Israeli diplomats sometimes seriously offend Jewish communities by not sending their children to Jewish schools."
During his stint as foreign minister, Sharansky - himself an immigrant from Russia - said he noted that officials and industrialists who participated in official visits abroad would use "time which could have been spent on getting to know local Jewish communities on going shopping." He also said that impressing upon such visitors the importance of visiting Jewish institutions whenever possible "would greatly help strengthen the Israel-Diaspora bond."