Minister Naftali Bennett on Why Diaspora Jews Matter to Israel

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Education Minister Naftali Bennett at a press conference, Feb. 18, 2016.
Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett. Credit: Moti Millrod

Haaretz columnist Rogel Alpher resented the campaign launched by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry – which represents the Israeli government and Israeli citizens in order to strengthen the ties between Diaspora Jewry and Israel, and between Israelis and their brothers in the Diaspora. The aim of the campaign is to familiarize the Israeli public with the everyday life of Jews in the Diaspora and their ties to Israel.

In his angry tirade, Alpher reveals that he disagrees with the basic Zionist premise underlying the Israeli Declaration of Independence. The formative document of the State of Israel begins with the sentence: “The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people.” The declaration outlines the relationship between the Jewish people and their land over thousands of years, and leads to the following conclusion:

“Accordingly, we, members of the People’s Council, representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist Movement, are here assembled on the day of the termination of the British Mandate over Eretz-Israel and, by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the basis of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.”

The story in the Declaration of Independence is the story of the entire Jewish people, which leads to the establishment of the Jewish state, the State of Israel. Without the Jewish people, there is no story and no state.

The State of Israel is the state of the Jewish people. The Jewish people existed before it, thousands of years earlier. The nation is the starting point, and securing its future is the goal and the means. It is, therefore, no wonder that Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion considered the Law of Return the most important law on our statute books (along with the State Education Law), because it enshrines the fact that the State of Israel is the state of the Jewish people.

All Zionist parties in Israel – from Meretz to Habayit Hayehudi – declare in their party manifestos that the State of Israel belongs to all of world Jewry. In the 2015 election campaign, the Zionist Union platform asserted that: “The relations of the State of Israel with Diaspora Jewry must be based on respect, dialogue and mutual responsibility The State of Israel will continue to work to pursue the vision of the Ingathering of the Exiles, recognizing the importance and value of Jewish communities throughout the world.”

Meretz’s platform, meanwhile, says, “Israel is the state of the Jewish people and all its citizens. Relations between Israel and Diaspora Jewry must be based on honest and respectful dialogue.” And, of course, the Habayit Hayehudi platform states: “We will work to strengthen the Jewish identity of Diaspora Jewry and strengthen relations with them, with the understanding that even those who have not chosen to live in Israel are part of our people.”

The indifference demonstrated by Alpher regarding the destiny and opinions of Diaspora Jews undermines the foundations of the Zionist enterprise, and the message conveyed by such a viewpoint is that the State of Israel is not the state of the Jewish people, but only the state of its citizens. The Israeli government sees the connection between Israel and the Diaspora as a strategic asset, both for the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

Alpher’s belief – that he is simply an Israeli who doesn’t identify as Jewish but only lives here by chance, the same way he just happens to write and speak Hebrew, the ancient language of the Jewish people – is not only a complete denial of any historical, cultural and national connection, but a blatant subversion of the foundations of our existence here and the future of the Jewish people.

And perhaps the really painful point is that, actually, we are not normal. We are both a country that grants equal rights to all its citizens – like any country – but also a country that belongs to the Jewish people. Indeed, a people that returns to its homeland, its language and its culture after thousands of years is not really normal. But that’s the reality, and those are the facts. And no theory, even a nice, enlightened and convincing one, will change that.

Renee from Brazil, Gabi from the United States and Dafna from Madrid are part of our extended family, our people, and we will never give up our connection with them. We have a fascinating and shared history, a common destiny and, most importantly, a shared and prosperous Jewish future.

The writer is chairman of Habayit Hayehudi and the minister for education and diaspora affairs.

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