Has the Time Come for a Quid Pro Quo?

What if the Diaspora demanded something in return for the financial aid they deliver each and every year to Israeli society?

Perhaps, just perhaps, it’s time for the Diaspora to insist on a quid pro quo.

There are many issues here in Israel that have a direct influence on Jewish life around the world. We’re not talking about defense or security related issues, nor foreign policy. I am referring to distinctly Jewish issues. As an example: gender equality in the public sphere; the right to marry as a Jew etc. While Israel sometimes does bow to outside pressure on diplomatic issues, on issues such as these, the Government of Israel continues to act – or more often not-act at all – in a unilateral and unacceptable manner.

During the summer of 2010, legislation was initiated in the Knesset that would have ushered in change to the conversion laws. The uproar in the Diaspora was immediate. One of the leading voices for, at the minimum, maintaining the status quo, came from the Jewish Federations of North America – whose actions contributed to the pending legislation being indefinitely tabled. The system is a significant fundraiser and funnel for monies coming to Israel.

But, what if they demanded something in return for this financial aid they deliver each and every year to Israeli society?

Since long before the State was established, Diaspora communities have unhesitatingly provided billions of dollars of capital to acquire and cultivate the land, equip the military during the War for Independence, support social service projects in the 21st century and more.

However, in recent years, the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora has become increasingly conflictual. Some of the conflict is driven by the peace process; more by the myriad of issues surrounding religious pluralism.

Some segments of Israeli society feel the county no longer needs outside money as Israel is not a charity case. And others, including Prime Minister Netanayu and Kadima head Tzipi Livni, have expressed that it is time to restructure our relationship with the Diaspora as full partners in moving the State forward.

Full partners means you work together, consult and compromise on issues directly related to the well-being of both. Full partners means all parties, including the Haredi political ones, will need to act in unison and, for once, show a spirit of Khal Yisrael on issues that effect us all.

The Jewish world can no longer afford to have these issues defined by the closed mentality that currently exists among certain minority segments here in Israel.

Unfortunately, the Haredi establishment already expects complete veto power on each and every aspect of state and religion. Nothing short of a major change in the dynamic of the Jewish world is likely to upset that apple cart.

The Diaspora has a powerful weapon at its disposal – the significant and continuing funding it provides to Israel – thereby relieving the State of funding many initiatives themselves. One result, successive governments find it all to easy to give in to the pressures from extremist parties on issues that have a direct effect on not only Israel, but also the Diaspora.

Maybe the time has come for those providing this meaningful philanthropy to begin closing the purse; to begin applying pressure where they can.

I am not suggesting emergency funds should not be disbursed to those in need, or for other necessary social services. But perhaps, some of the more discretionary funding from communal organizations should be frozen for 2012. A radical idea? Yes, decidedly so.

But I’m guessing if the Jewish world has the courage, the Prime Minister blinks first.

This article reflects the personal views of Dan Brown, the founder of eJewishPhilantrhopy.com, and should not be regarded as a statement of the views of eJewish Philanthropy, its volunteers, advisors or funders.

[eJP note: A version of this article originally appeared in December, 2010, on eJewish Philanthropy and in January, 2011, in The Jerusalem Report.]