The Presidency and the Diaspora: Haaretz Asks the Candidates

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Meir Sheetrit, Dalia Itzik, Reuven Rivlin, Dalia Dorner, and Daniel Shechtman. Credit: Ofer Vaknin, Shiran Granot, Tess Scheflan, Rami Shllush, Olivier Fitoussi

On the eve of Israel’s presidential election, Diaspora Jews - like the Israeli public - can only sit back and watch events unfold, as the votes are cast by members of the Knesset.

However, many Jews across the world are interested in how the candidates for the role of the ceremonial face of the Jewish state envision the often tumultuous relationship between Diaspora Jews and Israelis in both the arenas of politics and religion.

Click here to read about the five candidates in the presidential election

In order to facilitate an engaging, public discussion about the relationship between the president of Israel and the Jewish communities of the Diaspora, invited the leading candidates to respond to the same three questions. Two out of the five candidates in the race, Dalia Itzik and Dan Shechtman, declined to answer.

Here are the responses of the three candidates who agreed to respond: Reuven “Rubi” Rivlin, Dalia Dorner, and Meir Sheetrit:

Q: Do you believe a full Jewish life can be led outside of Israel?

Rivlin: I believe that our generation has the extraordinary good fortune to experience the revival of full Jewish independence and sovereignty in our ancestral homeland. My family has lived here seven generations back and my attachment to Israel is unshakable. The State of Israel is a dream come true for every Jew, regardless of whether he or she has chosen to live here, and in the same manner all Jews, wherever they may live, are part of our strength as a people. While our efforts to encourage Aliya will remain a cornerstone of our ethos, I also believe we have a responsibility to help Jewish communities around the world to preserve a solid identity.

Dorner: Jews live and have always lived in places around the world. I, as a ‘radical Zionist’ see the creation of the state as a miracle and think that Jews belong in their state, the State of Israel.

Sheetrit: Of course. Jewish life has changed much throughout time, across the world. Today, there are many streams, especially outside of Israel. All should be respected, because all are part of world Jewry.

Q: Would you address a Reform rabbi as "rabbi," and do you think the state should formally recognize non-Orthodox forms of Judaism and fund them equally?

Rivlin: If a person is considered by a community as a Rabbi, I believe it should be respected.

Dorner: I call every rabbi by his title and by his name. In Judaism and in Orthodox and secular society there are different streams and I honor ever stream and all rabbis - Orthodox and Reform alike.

Sheetrit: Of course, I would. Why not? And yes, the state should recognize the other streams. If somebody says 'we don't recognize other streams,' then they're tearing down other Jews.

According to some criteria, all streams should be funded equally. When I oversaw the Jewish Agency, I worked with Jews from all streams, including in the US. I had very good relations with them. At the time I was Treasurer of the Jewish Agency, and Conservatives and Jews from other streams had a lot of complaints about the situation for Jews like them here in Israel. You know what I told them? I said don't stay in the US complaining - come to Israel! Come here and change what's going on. If one million Jews from the other streams came to Israel, it would change the map.

Q: Does being pro-Israel mean voicing all criticism of Israel behind closed doors or can you publicly criticize and still be considered a supporter?

Rivlin: Israel should be a federating and unifying element for Jews around the world. But of course, I know that Jews and unanimity don’t go well together… Debate is a foundation of our culture and I have always been a supporter of open, respectful and fair debate. We should not be afraid of diverse opinions, as long as they are motivated by love of Israel and don’t undermine its interests. Diaspora Jews are our sisters and brothers, but only Israeli citizenship gives you the right to fully take part in defining the fate of our State.

Dorner: Every person in a democratic country has freedom of speech and with that the freedom to criticize. In a democratic country every man and woman has the right to criticize what he wishes. It is possible to be pro-Israel and criticize what happens there, there is no contradiction between these two things. It is possible to state a critical opinion, while loving and supporting the state.

Sheetrit: I think the fact is that Jews living outside of Israel should support the State of Israel. They cannot tell us how to act in the State of Israel... We have enough opposition from many different kinds of communities in the world.
I think that if somebody wants to be involved in what's going on in Israel, they have to live here. Their children need to be here, and serve in the army as well. But until then, I think, Jewry can criticize the state of Israel when speaking to the Prime Minister, when speaking to representatives of the government of Israel - but I would prefer that Jewry would support Israel from the outside.

Click here for more coverage of the Israeli presidential election or here to find out about the five remaining candidates. 

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