Policy planning institute: Future of Jewish people is not assured
Working paper says Jews lacking high-quality leadership, with 'no clear trend of improvement.'
WASHINGTON - A working paper prepared for next week's Conference on the Future of the Jewish People, sponsored by The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, contains the following assessment: "The future of the Jewish People is not assured, though there are great opportunities" for thriving. The opportunities are accompanied by quite a few dangers - some more talked about, such as the Iranian threat, and some less discussed, such as a possible weakening of the United States as a global power.
Another paper, entitled "The Jewish People in 2030," suggests that the world is unlikely to see a significant increase in the number of Jews. Furthermore, it states, "the Jewish people is facing a serious problem of high quality leadership, spiritual, political and professional with no clear trend of improvement."
The leadership issue will occupy an important place at the conference, with lengthy sessions devoted to resolving it. The irony, of course, is that the people coming to the conference are today's Jewish leaders. Some, like Steve Hoffman, president and CEO of the United Jewish Communities, reject the notion that leadership is lacking. The Jewish people have quite a lot of "quality leadership," Hoffman said Thursday.
And the list of participants is indeed impressive. Israeli cabinet ministers (Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in a session on leadership; Defense Minister Ehud Barak in a session on geopolitics; a briefing by Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin), the heads of AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, philanthropists and successful business people like Lester Crown, Lynn Schusterman, Mort Zuckerman, prominent scholars like Shmuel Trigano from Paris, Itamar Rabinovich of Tel Aviv, Jehuda Reinharz of Brandeis University, diplomats, statesmen like the former justice minister of Canada, Irwin Cotler, and many many others. A hundred and twenty in all, including speeches by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu, and the president-elect, Shimon Peres.
This is an ambitious conference (too ambitious, some would say). It seeks to present to the decision makers in Israel and the world policy recommendations in four primary areas: Jewish community, Jewish leadership, geopolitics, identity and demography.
Can 120 Jews reach a consensus on policy recommendations?
"One has to retain a sense of humility," says Dennis Ross, former peace envoy during the Clinton administration and now, among other things, chairman of the JPPPI. Nevertheless, he believes it is possible to achieve something "concrete," at least in terms of setting priorities, if not in determining ways of dealing with them. Hoffman, while somewhat skeptical regarding "concrete ideas," suggests that bringing so many leaders to sit around one table to discuss a common cause is already an achievement.
"The whole profile of the Jewish people is changing," states another of the conference working papers. These are lengthy, detailed accounts of familiar problems. Groups whose children tend to marry non-Jews at a high rate, and which have low fertility rates, will be reduced in number and influence. That will be the case of American Jewry, as opposed to Israel, whose Jewish population is set to increase.
Israel-Diaspora relations is bound to be a focus of tension in the discussions. You cannot separate a discussion about the future of the Jewish people from a discussion about the future of Israel, Ross maintains. Hoffman says he is still not prepared to view Israel as the center of the Jewish people. There are two centers - Israel and the U.S. - and both face problems.
As for the Jewish people in 2030, the conference papers' prognosis covers all bases: either "thriving," "drifting" "defending" or "dismal." JPPPI Director-General Avinoam Bar-Yosef, who sounded ready for skeptical questions on the essence of planning a people's future, conceded in a telephone conversation from Jerusalem that the Jewish people had survived until now without any planning. On the other hand, he said, "maybe if they had planned things, the situation would be better."