Liberman, ‘troubled’ about US Jewry, warns the Diaspora is waning

Citing ‘very grave’ 2013 Pew survey, defense minister urges Jews to ‘pull themselves together’ and strengthen their identity

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks at a Limmud FSU conference in Eilat, December 15, 2016. (Limmud FSU)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks at a Limmud FSU conference in Eilat, December 15, 2016. (Limmud FSU)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman is “really troubled” about the state of American Jewry, he said Thursday, warning that if Diaspora Jews don’t “pull themselves together,” their ranks will be greatly depleted in less than two generations.

“One of the things that really troubles me is the whole issue of Judaism, of the Jewish people in exile,” said Liberman, an avowed secularist politician whose Yisrael Beytenu party has long sought to scale back government intervention in religious affairs.

Addressing Russian-speaking Jews at a Limmud FSU conference in the southern city of Eilat, the defense minister specifically voiced concerns about US Jews, citing the 2013 Pew survey that showed — among many things — that one-fifth of American Jews don’t call themselves “Jewish” when asked about their religion, and pegged the overall intermarriage rate at 58 percent, with a whopping 71% among the non-Orthodox.

“Whoever saw the last surveys by the Pew Center, the rates of assimilation, the connection between the new generation in the United States to Judaism — not just Israel –” ought to be concerned, he lamented, adding that more-distant attitudes toward the Jewish state were also worrisome.

“The picture [that emerges from the survey] is very grave,” Liberman warned. “If we don’t pull ourselves together, in a generation and a half, there will be nearly no Jewish people in the Diaspora, apart from Orthodox communities.”

As Israel prepares to approve its two-year budget, the government should allocate funds to strengthening Jewish identity abroad, he continued, noting that while the funds were there, what was lacking was the “priority.”

Israel has long depended the on support of Diaspora Jewry, Liberman added. “Now it is our turn to offer them a hand. For this, too, we can find money.

“We are fighting for the future and the survival of the Jewish people in the entire world — outside of Israel, outside of Orthodoxy,” he proclaimed.

As foreign minister in February 2014, Liberman voiced similar concerns, opining at one point that demographic shifts among global Jewry were a graver threat to the Jewish people than Iran.

“It must become the most pressing issue on the global Jewish agenda, Liberman told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that year. “More pressing than the Palestinian negotiations or the Iranian nuclear threat.”

“The Jews of America are facing nothing less than a demographic catastrophe,” he warned.

At the time, Liberman called for the establishment 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 Israeli government should dedicate $365 million per year, a sum he said he hoped Jewish communities in the Diaspora would be willing to match.

As foreign minister, he also said his aim was 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.”

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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