Damning Tel Aviv University report calls to shutter Diaspora Ministry

Ministry ‘lacks vision and substance,’ according to report from Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry; ex-minister says Diaspora interests need a seat at the table

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Amichai Chikli, minister of Diaspora affairs and social equality, arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on May 14, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Amichai Chikli, minister of Diaspora affairs and social equality, arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on May 14, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

One of the world’s leading centers for the study of antisemitism is calling on Israel to shutter the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, asserting that it is superfluous and does little to actually fight hatred of Jews.

In a report released on Thursday, Tel Aviv University’s Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry argued that the ministry — which was recently renamed as the Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism Ministry — was established for “petty political reasons,” “lacks vision and substance” and has “promoted few initiatives.”

“Larger, existing ministries could have equally promoted” the programs it has undertaken, the report said, noting that the ministry’s attempt to track antisemitic incidents consisted of a broken link on its website — “an extremely lazy way of targeting the issue.”

The ministry should be broken up and its duties divided between the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office — which should handle relations with Jewish communities and security issues, respectively, the report, released annually ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day, continued.

According to the report, in order to “make an actual difference in the fight against antisemitism, the Israeli government should set long-term objectives and plans, preferably in a non-partisan way and with advice from an independent panel of relevant experts.”

These should include “a clear, non-negotiable definition of what constitutes antisemitism,” as well as efforts to determine “how the actual needs of Jewish communities can be best served,” it said.

File: Protesters hold placards during a demonstration to protest against antisemitism, in central London on November 26, 2023. (Justin Tallis/AFP)

In addition to criticisms of the ministry itself, the Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry took aim at Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli, calling him “a junior politician with little relevant experience in the field.”

Chikli recently stepped down from his other cabinet position as social equality minister, in what he said was an effort to limit spending on what has widely been seen as an excessive number of government offices; the post was then folded into Minister May Golan’s women’s advancement office.

The report’s conclusions dovetailed with the beliefs of some Israeli diplomats, who have argued that the ministry, long considered a government backwater with no clear purpose, lacks the personnel needed to deal with antisemitism abroad.

Diaspora Ministry deputy director general Amit Efrati told lawmakers earlier this month that his department had allocated NIS 8 million ($2.2 million) for protecting Jewish institutions around the world along with programs in Jewish schools, though many have seen this as insufficient.

“You have to have someone on the ground” who can deal with the unique manifestation of antisemitism in each country and can cultivate “influential contacts with the local government and even lobby for laws” against antisemitism, one diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Times of Israel at the time.

Then-Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai attends the Jewish People’s Lobby, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While he declined to comment on the performance of its current leadership, former diaspora minister Nachman Shai told The Times of Israel that despite whatever complaints there may be, it is “important for there to be a senior position in the government” dedicated to representing Diaspora interests.

“I always said at government meetings that every decision affects the Jews of the Diaspora,” not just issues of religion and state but also those related to “war and peace,” he said, citing the surge in global antisemitism following October 7.

Rather than closing the ministry, it would be better to improve it, he stated.

The Diaspora Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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