Jewish continuity, not the Palestinian issue or Iran’s nuclear program, needs to top Israel’s agenda, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Tuesday.
Addressing American Jewish leaders at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, Liberman said that he plans to devote hundreds of millions of dollars to establish a global network of Jewish schools and bring 3.5 million Jews to Israel within a decade.
“I would like to state my firm belief that the biggest threat to us as Jews, both in Israel and the Diaspora, regardless of background, is the demographic problem currently facing world Jewry,” Liberman said. “It must become the most pressing issue on the global Jewish agenda. More pressing than the Palestinian negotiations or the Iranian nuclear threat.”
Speaking to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which is currently holding its annual Israel Leadership Mission to Israel, the foreign minister quoted a long list of statistics to support his thesis that “the Jews of America are facing nothing less than a demographic catastrophe.”
The recently released Pew survey on American Jewry makes “for pretty depressing reading,” he said. The survey’s findings show a significant rise in those who have little or no Jewish content in their lives, marry outside the faith and are not raising their children Jewish, he added.
“It is my strongest belief that the antidote to this rising assimilation, intermarriage and disengagement is education,” Liberman told the American Jewish leaders. “Today, unfortunately, Jewish children are being kept from Jewish classrooms because of the exorbitant and prohibitive costs of Jewish education in the US. It cannot be, it should not be, that a Jewish child will not be able to receive a good Jewish education because of financial reasons. This should be unacceptable to all of us who care for the Jewish future.”
The situation is similar in various Jewish communities across the globe, he said. “If this situation persists, we will lose another six million Jews in a generation or two,” he warned.
The foreign minister noted that 90 percent of the Israeli diplomats he meets abroad send their children to American or international schools, even when there are local Jewish schools, mostly because they are considered better.
“This is unacceptable,” he said. “We need to ensure that Jewish schools will be among the best in the world.”
Liberman then called for the creation of a “global network of Jewish schools that are superior in standard to the American and international school network.” To reach that goal, he said, the Israel government should dedicate $365 million per year, which he hoped Jewish communities in the Diaspora would be willing to match.
“These funds will be found in our budgets; it is just a matter of prioritizing Jewish education above all other issues. This must become the most pressing issue on the global Jewish agenda,” he said. “From my point of view, this is more pressing than any other issue, including the Palestinian negotiations or the Iranian nuclear threat.”
Furthermore, Liberman aims to convince 3.5 million Diaspora Jews to immigrate to Israel over the next 10 years, “so that the Jewish population in Israel will exceed 10 million,” he said. “I know this might sound unrealistic to some, and others will say that it is merely a slogan. However, I say: ‘If you will it, it is no dream.’”