Bennett's Mistaken and Provincial Worldview Must Be Opposed

Israel's government has no right to preach to overseas Jews about what kind of family units they should establish. This presumption reflects a harmful arrogance and even emits a racist stench.

GPO

In the name of strengthening ties with the Diaspora, the Israeli government has declared war on “assimilation,” and also on criticism of its actions and policies by overseas Jews. These are two of the main elements of a new project spearheaded by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry.

It’s no accident that these two elements go together in the view of the minister in charge, Naftali Bennett, and his staff: The pure and holy nation cannot accept any challenge or threat. The worldview that Bennett represents is not only mistaken and provincial, but is also liable to lead to clashes with sizable groups of overseas Jews.

A few years ago, the government, the Jewish Agency and Jewish activists began to formulate a program that would try to define the appropriate relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, sparked by fears that overseas Jews’ affiliation with Israel would weaken over time. But over the past few months, Bennett has managed to oust both the Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency from the project.

An internal document from the Diaspora Affairs Ministry whose contents came to light this weekend reveals the impetus for devising this program: “the ongoing erosion of Jewish identity in various communities worldwide,” as reflected primarily in “the undermining of the Jewish foundations of the family unit” and “a significant rise in critical discourse about Israel.”

In practice, the war against these dangers will be waged by a private company about which the ministry’s director general, Dvir Kahana, refuses to divulge any details. The company was registered just four months ago, but in a highly unusual move, the Justice Ministry approved the government’s contract with it. Public funding for the program will total 190 million shekels, or $50 million (not including the 18 percent value-added tax), and this will be augmented by an additional 370 million shekels that the private company is supposed to raise.

Any program dealing with the dangers of “assimilation” and Jewish criticism of Israel must be opposed. The government has no right to preach to overseas Jews about what kind of family units they should establish. This presumption reflects a harmful arrogance and even emits a racist stench.

Equally unacceptable is the enlistment of Bennett and senior Diaspora Ministry staffers in a battle against criticism of the government, primarily by the younger generation. This is yet another attempt by the government to gag opposing views, attempts that are also directed at Israeli society. And it’s yet another reflection of the government’s intolerance of any willingness to embrace a more complex worldview that doesn’t divide the world, including the Jewish world, into ardent lovers and sworn haters.

Two necessary conditions for any relationship with Diaspora Jewry are dialogue and recognition of the legitimacy of varied and diverse views. The Diaspora Ministry’s plan is the diametric opposite of this.