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Diaspora Affairs Ministry proposes bill to connect government, world Jewry

Legislation would require ministries to interact with Jewish communities abroad about issues that affect them, in an effort to repair strained relations

Illustrative: Blue and White party member Omer Yankelevich at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, May 14, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustrative: Blue and White party member Omer Yankelevich at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, May 14, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Diaspora Affairs Ministry announced plans on Thursday to introduce a bill that would require government ministries to connect with diaspora Jewish communities on issues that affect Jews worldwide, in an effort to repair strained relations between the government and Jews outside of Israel.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich said the bill is meant to strengthen ties between diaspora Jewry and the Israeli government and to reinforce the ethos that Israel is the homeland of Jews worldwide.

“Now is the time to formalize the discourse between the government of Israel and world Jewry. The Jewish world deserves a voice in the Jewish state,” she said in a statement.

Israel and part of world Jewry have appeared to move apart over the last several years, in part as a more progressive Diaspora has run into conflict with Israeli policies influenced by the country’s Orthodox-dominated religious leadership.

Divisions have grown over issues such as shelved plans to formalize prayer rights at the Western Wall for more pluralistic denominations, Israeli conversion rules and settlement policies, while some in Israel have been critical of non-Orthodox diaspora Jews’ declining commitment to the Jewish state and high intermarriage rates, producing a growing but far from universal disconnect.

(The Western Wall is overseen by a government body known as the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which runs it according to an Orthodox interpretation of Jewish law. There are separate sections for women and men, but no formally guaranteed area for pluralistic prayer with shared oversight by non-Orthodox Jewish leaders.)

Authentic Jewish identity is another major point of tension, with endless simmering disputes over the question of who is a Jew. In recent years, Israel has come under fire for allegedly “blacklisting” American Orthodox rabbis that it does not trust to recognize the Jewish identity of American immigrants to Israel.

Additionally, some European Jews have expressed regret at Israel’s efforts to bolster ties with former Soviet states, with communal figures in countries such as Ukraine and Hungary complaining that Jerusalem has ignored anti-Semitism and Holocaust revisionism in its quest for closer diplomatic relations.

Yankelevich’s Thursday statement said bringing forward the issue of strained relations was “a declaration of the government of Israel’s commitment to repairing and elevating this relationship.”

Diaspora youth participate in Birthright Israel event in Jerusalem (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90
Diaspora youth participate in a Birthright Israel event in Jerusalem (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

“This bill is a visionary step, propelling forward the relationship between the State of Israel and world Jewry,” said Yankelevitch, who is a member of Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party.

The bill builds upon the July decision on a first-ever comprehensive plan geared toward securing the future of Diaspora Jewry, she said.

“As Diaspora Affairs Minister, I see it as my role to be the address for world Jewry in Israel. When the government of Israel makes decisions that affect world Jewry, it must also have the decency to listen to world Jewry,” Yankelevitch said.

Yankelevitch is coordinating with government officials and ministers in an effort to build a broad coalition of support for strengthening relations, and called upon Jews everywhere to “internalize that together they are one people with a common destiny.”

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