Jewish Agency pulls out of $150m. Israel-Diaspora initiative

Bennett’s Diaspora Affairs Ministry appropriating project intended to forge closer ties with communities abroad, Sharansky says in letter to PM

Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, at his office in Jerusalem, on September 22, 2014. (Flash90)
Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, at his office in Jerusalem, on September 22, 2014. (Flash90)

The heads of the Jewish Agency have informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the organization is withdrawing from a program with the government aimed at strengthening ties between Israel and Diaspora communities.

In a letter sent to Netanyahu’s office Thursday, the Jewish Agency’s Chairman Natan Sharansky and Chair of the Board of Governors Charles Ratner wrote that the organization “cannot continue to participate in the [Government of Israel] Initiative as currently formulated” because “the current reality has been changed in direct contradiction both to the spirit of the Initiative and in direct conflict with the June 2014 Government of Israel Resolution establishing [it].”

According to a Haaretz report Friday, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, now headed by Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, asked to use the program to address what it called “continued erosion of Jewish identity among Jews in various communities across the world.”

An internal ministry document published by the paper described this “erosion” as principally reflected in the “undermining of Jewish principles in the family unit” and the “significant rise in critical discussion concerning Israel” among younger Jews.

The program was to be managed by a company established earlier this year called the Initiative for the Future of the Jewish People. It was to receive NIS 190 million ($50 million) from the Israeli government and raise an additional NIS 370 million ($97 million) from Jewish organizations and philanthropists, Haaretz reported.

“We share with you a deep concern of what the community of Jews living outside of Israel will look like, 50 years from now, and how committed they will be to Israel and broader Jewish interests,” the Jewish Agency heads said. But instead of bridging the divide between the Diaspora and Israel, “this undertaking has transformed simply into a funding framework for programs to be conducted by a single government Ministry.”

“Under these circumstances, we regret to inform you, in consultation and agreement with our constituent partners, that until the program is returned to its original conception and direction, we no longer see this as the joint initiative between the Government of Israel and World Jewry and therefore can no longer see ourselves part of it,” they said.

According to the text of the resolution passed by Israel’s Cabinet last June, a key portion of the initiative was strengthening the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. The first stage of the initiative was to focus both on bringing young Diaspora Jews to Israel and on Israel education in Diaspora communities.

The Jewish Agency, historically focused on promoting immigration to Israel, has in recent years taken up a new mission of strengthening Jewish identity in the Diaspora and peoplehood. It now offers Diaspora Jews long-term experiences in Israel without a commitment to immigrate.

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