It’s time for a paradigm shift in Israel-Diaspora relations
Today it is becoming increasingly apparent that a paradigm shift is needed, one that emphasizes Jewish identity, partnership and mutual responsibility. Israel has become a resilient country with a robust economy and a champion in many fields. We ought to better share our experience with our brothers and sisters abroad and create productive collaborations.
Looking at the first year of the new Israeli government, it is safe to say that not only is COVID-19 under control and the economy back on track, but this government also managed to restore trust and confidence in the Jewish state’s alliance with world Jewry. Building on these achievements, now it is time for a paradigm shift.
Strong Israel-Diaspora relations are vital for Israel. First and foremost, it is an inherent value of Israel as the home of the Jewish people. In addition, these relations have long been considered a pillar in Israel’s national security. Traditionally, Israel relied on the financial and political support of Jews living abroad. Diaspora Jews, particularly in communities in the U.S. and Europe, are the ‘first line of defense’ against delegitimization and BDS efforts, which often include antisemitic characteristics. Jewish philanthropists are still the main contributors to social causes in Israel, and it is undisputed that Jewish individuals and groups are leading advocates for Israel within their countries. Israel’s role has mainly involved assisting endangered Jewish communities and integrating Jews wishing to make aliya.
Today, however, it is becoming increasingly apparent that a paradigm shift is needed, one that emphasizes Jewish identity, partnership and mutual responsibility. Israel has become a resilient country with a robust economy and a champion in many fields. We ought to better share our experience with our brothers and sisters abroad and create productive collaborations. We must take the initiative in buttressing joint ventures on healthcare, education, innovation and security with Jewish communities. For instance, with the rise of antisemitism, Israel can offer synagogues around the world professional security training in Israel for their staff or community members. On top of the skills, this training will allow for an immersive Israel experience and a stronger connection to the country.
A chief challenge that the Jewish Diaspora faces today is how to connect younger generations to their Jewish identity and Israel. I argue that these two are interconnected. A strong Jewish identity leads to a natural affinity toward Israel, and a deep connection to Israel creates a link to our people’s history and tradition and our current state of affairs. Therefore, it is clear that Israel has a stake in the matter and should take a more active role in tackling this challenge.
The American Jewish community in particular has grappled with this question for a few years now. Major Jewish organizations and national and local funders created and supported programs for young Jewish leaders. Many of those programs have an “Israel” component.
Israel can no longer afford to stand on the sidelines of these efforts; we have too much to lose. Young American Jews today are less enthusiastic about traveling to Israel, and many testify that if they do go on Birthright or other programs, they are reluctant to share their trip on social media for fear of criticism by their non-Jewish friends back home. We need to give them the tools to talk about Israel and share their Israeli stories with confidence.
We should join hands to explore avenues to connect young Jews to their Jewish identity and Israel through shared values and personal and professional matters they care about. Israeli innovation and technology can be incorporated into the interaction with young Jews, help bridge the physical distance, fight antisemitism online and find new ways to commemorate the Holocaust. However, we should also explore collaborations based on traditional Jewish values. For example, Israel has built expertise in international development and humanitarian aid, and there is abundant potential for supporting joint Tikun Olam ventures for young American Jews and Israelis in Israel, developing regions around the globe, or disaster-stricken areas. Mashav, Israel’s aid agency, can become a professional resource for Project TEN, Jewish Peace Corps and other initiatives.
We are at a pivotal moment in our collective history. Both Israel and the Jewish Diaspora can greatly benefit from taking an in-depth contemplation on the dynamics of our long-lasting bond.
Idan Roll is the deputy minister of foreign affairs of the State of Israel.