Knesset members from different parties on Tuesday called for a stronger connection between Israel and the Diaspora at the opening session of a new “lobby for the strengthening of the Jewish world.”
Though planned weeks in advance, the event was overshadowed by deadly shooting in front of a Jewish school in Toulouse, which left four people dead, among them three children with dual French-Israeli citizenship.
“Yesterday, Jewish children were attacked in school just because they wanted to maintain a connection with their Jewish heritage and the Jewish state,” said Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, on whose initiative the new lobby, as the Knesset calls ad hoc committees, was founded.
Some 40 MKs from across the political spectrum agreed to join the lobby, which was co-founded by coalition chairman MK Zeev Elkin (Likud) and Nachman Shai (Kadima). “These murderous attack proves once again in the most tragic way that the enemies of the Jewish people and the enemies of the Jewish state are one and the same. The state of Israel and the Jewish people are faced with the same threats.”
Sharansky announced that the agency would send educational staff and professionals specializing in dealing with trauma to Toulouse to help the community’s children better cope with Monday’s events.
The Knesset lobby has no real political power but seeks to serve as a wide platform on which Israeli lawmakers, the Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Ministry, Jewish Agency officials and leaders of Diaspora communities can debate important issues of the day, Elkin explained. About a dozen MKs from all Zionist parties and even Moshe Gafni, of the Ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism faction attended Tuesday’s opening session. Some mentioned a few issues they would like the lobby to address, such as the state conversion system and the power wielded by the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate, which often causes spats with non-Orthodox Jews in North America.
“Just yesterday we received an appalling evidence with the terror attack in Toulouse for the fact that fate of the world’s Jews is joined with the fate of the Jews in the state of Israel, regardless of where they live,” Elkin said, according to a statement released by the Jewish Agency. “This lobby will strive to strengthen the mutual engagement and a strengthening of ties.”
During the session, the Jewish Agency’s secretary-general, Josh Schwartz, presented the results of a new survey, which showed that three quarters of Israeli Jews believe in mutual responsibility between them and their co-religionists in the Diaspora.
“Ninety-one percent of the Jewish public in Israel are sure or think that Diaspora Jewry will stand at Israel’s side if there were an attack on Israel, such as the Iranian threat,” according to the survey. Also 91 percent are either sure or think that Israel should assist Jewish communities abroad if they find themselves in difficulties, be they political, economical or because of anti-Semitism.
However, the survey also shows that a third of respondents are sure that Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jews considers themselves part of one people. Twenty-three percent felt that the connection between the two groups is getting weaker, while only 12 percent believe it’s growing stronger. More than half said the connection was stable.
Although there are repeated efforts in Israel to create some sort of Israeli identity that has nothing to do with the Jews in the Diaspora but Monday’s shooting reminds us that the this connection is one of life and death, said Zelkin.
“As history has shown us,” said Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud), “the enemies of the Jewish people don’t distinguish between a Chabad Hasid and an Israeli diplomat. At least they see us as one people.”