The New Dynamic Between Israel and the Jewish World

Israel gov logoby Dvir Kahana

Over the next few weeks, the Government of Israel will decide upon a crucial resolution which will have a lasting impact on Diaspora relations. The Joint Initiative of the Government of Israel and World Jewry is a new blueprint we expect will strengthen Jewish identity and bolster Israel-Diaspora ties for years to come.

While there are many programs around the world which share these goals, Israel has, up to now, only contributed a small percentage of the funds needed to keep them running. If the initiative is green-lighted, it will mean that the Government of Israel agrees to raise the bar and contribute more resources over the next decade.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs has been leading the establishment of the initiative. The Jewish Agency, which originated the idea, has been a convener throughout the process. As we approach the crucial vote and solidify plans, I believe it is imperative to raise some key points about the initiative as a whole.

The natural place to start would be the rationale behind the plan. We intend to put aside tens of millions of shekels in the Israeli budget to co-support Diaspora related programs. This is a national priority – not just for this government but for all those to come. I personally believe it is an expression of a growing national consensus as to the importance of Israel-Diaspora relations.

When the Prime Minister talks about this being a true collaboration, he means it. Israel is committed to face the challenges and opportunities of the Jewish people together with the Diaspora. The initiative is [a] cooperative one and everyone will have an opportunity to have a seat at the table. I think that anyone who is familiar with the world of Jewish programs understands just how big a shift this will be.

It is long overdue for Israel to play a key role in the effort to in strengthen Jewish identity. That said, this initiative does not signal whatsoever that the issue is being taken over or deferred to any party. It is also not designed to put an end to any existing Jewish oriented program. If anything, the opposite is true. Successful programs will be examined and expanded while new ones will be launched. We will experiment with new ideas as long as they are designed to nurture meaningful Jewish identity and a positive approach towards Israel.

The plan is to form a new mechanism in Jerusalem, which would oversee the various programs but not micromanage their content. Manned by Israelis and Diaspora representatives alike, it would apply one measurement system to gauge success and eventually oversee one digital platform for the Jewish world.

We expect our fresh perspective will streamline the administrative process, cutting back on the bureaucracy while allowing equal and direct access to the government, depending on the program and the backing it receives. We strongly believe that strong and substantial content is the key for any successful program. These activities will bring about the long term impact we’re aspiring to. At the end of the day, we’re looking to enable a broad based Jewish eco-system and help it thrive.

There are many more points which need to be debated for the initiative to succeed. In the coming weeks, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs will be putting out more information, writing more op-eds and opening up forums for discussions using various media which we will announce. Once set up, I invite you to take part in the process and help us formulate this groundbreaking initiative which will help us achieve our goal: a thriving future for the Jewish people.

Dvir Kahana is Director General of the Ministry for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs.

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  1. Jon A. Levisohn says

    The more that emerges about the (curiously unnamed) new Jewish educational initiative coming out of Jerusalem, the more Orwellian it sounds.

    Notice: “the initiative is a cooperative one” and “everyone will have an opportunity to have a seat at the table” and “this initiative does not signal whatsoever that the issue is being taken over [by] any party.”

    But at the same time, “The plan is to form a new mechanism in Jerusalem, which would … apply one measurement system to gauge success … for the Jewish world.”

    I am not alleging a sinister conspiracy, only a surprising lack of awareness about the unintended consequences of this kind of centralization of evaluation and financial control.

    And two more thoughts. First, while I have no smoking gun, it seems likely that this initiative is an outgrowth of what it taken to be the success of Birthright. Fair enough; Birthright has undeniably changed North American Jewish life, and perhaps Israeli Jewish life as well.

    Except that using Birthright as a model of a major new intervention misses the fact that Birthright is successful precisely because it has _not_ mandated particular outcomes, only provided the barest outline of programmatic structure — and then opened the field to multiple providers. Birthright, of course, had no predetermined “one measurement system to gauge success,” only a hunch that good things would happen.

    The fact that that lack of precision, that fuzziness, is precisely what allowed the diverse stakeholders to commit and to remain committed to it is worthy of serious consideration. I am not endorsing fuzziness about outcomes for its own sake, only recognizing the political realities of large scale interventions.

    And second, for those keeping score at home: this short article contains three references to Jewish identity, twice being “strengthened” and once being “nurtured.” All three references do what they always do in Jewish public policy discourse: they make it seem like what we know what we’re after when in fact we have no idea.

    If the organizers are really interested in a “measurement system,” the first step is to realize that they’re going to have to avoid using the misleading language of Jewish identity and instead open up the space for alternative, richer, more nuanced and more meaningful conceptions — and also more pluralistic conceptions, rather than the fantasy of a unified metric — of what the outcomes of Jewish education ought to be.

    Jon A. Levisohn
    Brandeis University

  2. A Blumberg says

    Along with a diverse group of hundreds of Jews from over 50 countries I participated in the Securing the Jewish Future online open dialog, held in February, that helped to shape the recommendations for the Joint Initiative. The Government of Israel should be lauded, along with the Jewish Agency for Israel and other cooperative agencies, for this dynamic effort to increase and improve Jewish education and the ties that bind us and make us a People.

    The recommendations for the activities for the Joint Initiative spanned immersive experiences; a collaborative and interlinked ecosystem for ongoing and sustainable Jewish engagement; robust and compelling content about Jewish ideas, values, texts, arts, sites and sources; systems of recruitment, retention and opportunities for professional advancement of educators; digital technology to access and process content, foster connections and develop community; and funding of new innovations yet to come.

    Our People continues to face the questions about what it means to be a Jew in the modern world, about what makes us and keeps us Jews. The answers, along with our ethnically, racially and culturally diverse People, are still evolving. With this initiative Israel is taking a new and bold step forward in answering the questions about what it means to be the State of the Jewish People in the modern world. I applaud this effort from the still young center of a globally connected Jewish People. Given the challenges facing the Jewish People it is nothing short of heroic. The possibilities are immense.