By Yossi Beilin
“Haaretz”, the newspaper which usually expresses opinions near and dear to my heart, angered me with its scathing rebuke of the government’s plan to strengthen ties with the Diaspora. I can understand critique from a content perspective, but under no circumstances on the effort to maintain it.
In an editorial published this past Monday, the paper states “Any program dealing with the dangers of “assimilation” (the article had it in quotes) … 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.”
If the government is indeed ready to budget 190 million shekel for Jewish continuity around the world (on top of the funding for “Taglit” and “Masa”), it is an important tiding which points to a change in direction: instead of counting on generous donations from Jews in the America and other countries around the world, it is Israel opening it’s pockets, bringing young Jews to visit Israel and contributing in their Jewish education. Israel is looking to cut back on the scope of assimilation, which it does not see in “quotes,” but a disturbing trend which is commonplace in the Diaspora, that no liberal is allowed to prevent, but that it is certainly entitled to create conditions under which is can be curbed.
Israel, as I see it, is the homeland for the Jewish people and all its citizens. Unlike other countries, it has a specific purpose which was accentuated by the decimation of European Jews during the Holocaust – to facilitate the continuity of the Jewish people as much as possible. It cannot enforce this continuity upon anyone in the world, it cannot and is not allowed to prevent intermarriage, it cannot force a specific educational curriculum upon anyone who does not want it or support any government policy at any specific time. All that Israel can and must do is offer the Jewish world an option.
The option is to give young Jews from around the world the chance to identify with the Jewish narrative, to feel part of an extended family which gives them an identity in our detached world and give them the opportunity to meet other young Jews and form Jewish families. Israel’s role is that in an intermarriage, the non-Jewish partner will not feel left out (which is very common) and that they too could be part of the Jewish people – if they want – without having to go through a ritual conversion.
The Jewish Agency’s objections to collaborate with the Government’s plan reminds me of their fight against the “Taglit” program when I first presented it in 1994: it’s not a matter of principle, it is a bureaucratic struggle from an organization whose budget continues to shrink, which lost its relevancy 67 years ago yet insists to carry on as if there is no State which is not allowed set aside budgets for Jewish issues. I would suggest “Haaretz” not join in this bureaucratic struggle.
Yossi Beilin served as a minister in Rabin’s, Peres’ and Barak’s governments and other executive and parliamentary roles. In the 1990’s he initiated Taglit – the Birthright Israel program.
This article was originally published in Israel Hayom (Hebrew edition) on August 11, 2015. Translated and published with permission.