Toward a Jewish People Policy

A deep understanding of the dynamics of the Jewish People and a correct perception of the emerging dangers to Israel-Diaspora relations are almost completely missing.

Among the many domains in which Israel lacks a substantive policy, that of the Jewish People occupies a "place of honor." There is plenty of talk about "the Diaspora as a strategic asset," and its financial support is requested, world Jewry is being mobilized against Iran, the rate of assimilation is observed with shock, and emotions boil in the face of anti-Semitic attacks on synagogues and cemeteries. There is some improvement in caring for the physical security of endangered communities. All these are accompanied by a multitude of declarations on the nature of Israel as "the state of the Jewish People," multiple appearances of senior Israeli leaders in Jewish forums around the world, and repetitive declarations that aliyah is the solution for all troubles. But a deep understanding of the dynamics of the Jewish People and a correct perception of the emerging dangers to Israel-Diaspora relations are almost completely missing. Furthermore, the crafting of an Israeli Jewish People policy fitting the conditions of the 21st century is not included in the public agenda of the country.

These attitudes toward the Diaspora are rooted in history and had some justifications in the realities of the past (though I think that in this matter, David Ben- Gurion made one of his few statecraft-related mistakes). But the world is changing rapidly, including the State of Israel and the Jewish People as a whole, making clinging to what may have been effective in the past a reliable prescription for dismal failure in the future. This is clearly the case in political-security matters, but is no less true with respect to the future of Israel-Diaspora relations. In the absence of a sharp turn in policy, or, more correctly, of any real policy vis-a-vis the Diaspora, a serious deterioration in relations is assured, with irreparable damage to the future of both Israel as a Jewish-Zionist state and the Jewish People in its dispersion.

Strong socio-historic processes will result in a growing distance between the State of Israel and the Diaspora, unless an innovative policy prevents this "natural" development. Substantial divergence between the experience of being a Jew in Israel and in the Diaspora, together with radical differences in social structure, will produce a growing distance between Jews in Israel and the Diaspora. If the disappearance of the generation that experienced the dramatic events of the establishment and the building of the State of Israel after the Shoah is added to this diagnosis - together with globalization of Western culture, which forcefully impacts on the majority of the Jewish People everywhere - then the unavoidable conclusion is that there is near certainty that deep historic processes will weaken and dilute more and more the connections between Israel and the Diaspora. This will be the case, unless we succeed to bend historic trajectories into a desired direction.

To do so, it is essential, first of all, to get rid of illusions and delusions stemming from the short-sighted fixation on what is before one's nose, instead of correct assessment of basic processes that are below the surface but shaping the future forcefully. At present Israel continues to benefit from very visible expressions of identification by parts of the Jewish People in the Diaspora: Israel's policies are widely supported, money is flowing in, delegations come and go, and declarations are pronounced noisily. Therefore, Israeli politicians, the vast majority of whom concentrate on what is obvious to the naked eye, lack any incentive to craft a new, grand policy toward the Diaspora - all the more so as they are overloaded with difficult problems at present, and Diaspora Jews do not vote for the Knesset. Furthermore, most Israeli policy-makers and also intellectuals and opinion-shapers, suffer from a lack of understanding, as well as ignorance about and misperception of, Diaspora realities, especially concerning the mindset and feelings of the majority of the younger generation.

Even if the issue is well understood, it is not easy to base Israeli-Diaspora relations on a sustainable foundation. But this is not mission impossible. If we are creative in thinking and acting, then processes can be molded that will meet the requirements - including, for instance:

b Developing core curricula in Jewish and Jewish People studies, to be shared by Israel and the Diaspora, with care being taken to offer a range of options so as to accommodate value diversity.

b Inclusion of programs offering an understanding of the Jewish People and its dynamics in the mass media.

b A radical change in the conception of aliyah, with encouragement of partial aliyah, including multiple residences in Israel and the Diaspora.

b Substantive consultation with Diaspora leaders on Israeli decisions of importance to the Jewish People as a whole, with cautious movement toward establishing a "consultative Jewish People council" related to the Knesset, which is entitled to prepare advisory opinions, and is composed of representatives of the Diaspora.

b Explicit and declared recognition of the right of Jews in the Diaspora to criticize Israeli policies.

b New modalities for Jewish investments in Israel, combining profitability with expression of solidarity.

b Shared challenging projects, including tikkun olam ("repair of the world") activities.

b Strengthening of identification symbols and shared centers, such as by making Jerusalem into the cultural capital of Judaism and the Jewish People.

b Setting up in Jerusalem a Jewish People leadership academy, to enable shared study and discourse by Israeli and Diaspora leaders, with special attention to younger ones.

b Deepening the nature of Israel as a "Jewish state" and making it more visible.

And more.

An essential step for moving in the suggested direction, in addition to a correct reading of the emerging dangers to Israel-Diaspora relations, is Israeli Jewish leaders' self-perception and self-understanding about being a part of Jewish People leadership, with attention and efforts aimed at advancing the situation of Jews wherever they may be. With distinguished but all too few exceptions, such a conception does not exist, other than on a purely declarative level that causes more harm than good.

Yehezkel Dror is founding president of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute (established by the Jewish Agency), an Israel Prize laureate and professor emeritus of political science at the Hebrew University.