Behind the Headlines a New Look at Old Issues

A group of prominent Labor Party members, most of whom have served in diplomatic posts and other missions abroad, have organized to press for a radical reorganization of Israel’s relations with diaspora-Jewry and new approaches to the problems of the Jewish people at large. The group wants to create a special government Ministry for World Jewish Affairs. It envisions roles for the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization. But it regards those bodies, and the present government set-up as well, as inadequate and bound by concepts of the past.

Describing themselves frankly as “rebellious,” one of the group’s first objectives is to prevent adoption of the recommendations of a special panel chaired by Haifa Technion president Amos Horev, which would restore the immigration and absorption machinery to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Jewish Agency, although under the guidelines of a supreme government authority headed by the Prime Minister.

They claim that the Absorption Ministry, which the Horev commission recommended should be abolished, was set up due to the failure of the Jewish Agency’s absorption process. Restoring that function to the Jewish Agency is a retreat to the conditions that existed before 1968, they say But the program being put forward by the new group is much greater in scope and envisions vast changes in Israeli institutions with respect their relations with diaspora Jews. The composition of the group is such that it cannot be denied a serious hearing.

It includes, among others, Moshe Gilboa, former Israel Consul General for the Southeastern U.S. and, until recently, director of the WZO’s information department; Mrs. Esther Herlitz, former Israeli Ambassador to Denmark and former Consul in the U.S. in charge of Jewish affairs; Israel Avidor, former secretary of Habonim; Mayor Teddy Kollek, of Jerusalem; Asher Ben Natan, Israel’s former Ambassador to France; MK David Koren; Col. Assaf Yagoory; Mrs. Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi, widow of the late President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and many others.

PRESENT LEADERSHIP IS HIDEBOUND

They believe that the purpose of creating the Jewish State was to solve the problem of the Jewish people, not to have the Jewish people solve the problems of the State. They are convinced that the present leaders of the government and other institutions who deal with diaspora Jewry are no longer fit for that task because this leadership is still oriented toward the East European Jewry destroyed by the Holocaust.

These leaders are not sensitive to the tremendous changes that have taken place among the Jewish people–changes in concepts, mentality and behavior–and therefore are out of contact with the Jewish people they are supposed to serve the new group says.

They call for giving much higher priority to the question of Israel’s relations with diaspora Jews. Israel was established to help world Jewry maintain its Jewish consciousness and it should help by aliya and absorption and by providing Jews with a proper, modern means of Jewish education, they say. But the present institutions are not efficient enough and not adapted for that task, according to the proponents of change.

NOT DOING ENOUGH

Their criticism is directed mainly at the government for not doing enough and at the WZO. The latter, they say, has no idea how to deal with the vast, fateful problem of diaspora Jewry. They think the job has to be divided between government institutions, the Jewish Agency and WZO and national Jewish organizations in the various countries.

The WZO, they point out, has ties only with Zionist parties and federations abroad and cannot deal with non-aligned Jewish groups and individuals, especially intellectuals and academicians. Therefore, the government must assume greater responsibility by creating a Ministry for World Jewish Affairs.

The Jewish Agency and the WZO would serve as tools to reach various other sections of the diaspora, working side-by-side with such major international Jewish bodies as the World Jewish Congress and B’nai B’rith and with national federations and organizations such as the Jewish Welfare Board and the Israel Bond Organization.

TASKS FOR EDUCATION MINISTRY

The new group believes that the most important job lies with the Ministry of Education. What has been done so far by the Ministry and the various departments of the Jewish Agency is inadequate they say, and even work in the educational field is done according to party politics. Therefore, they are demanding the abolition of all Zionist parties abroad and the creation of an all-embracing organization to work with local Jewish organizations.

They believe the Education Ministry can save the situation by setting up a special department for education in the diaspora and equipping it with a pool of textbooks, audio-visual material and other modern educational tools. The Ministry should supervise the training of teachers to be sent abroad and a panel of top university experts on education would prepare a blue-print for Jewish education overseas. The Israeli Teachers Union is called on to maintain regular and close contacts with Jewish teachers in the diaspora.

The new group welcomed the decision to hold elections for delegates to the next World Zionist Congress. They said they hoped the election process would bring new faces and younger faces into the ranks of the Zionist leadership. They also want to see new faces in the Labor Party, noting that there has been no change in the Labor Zionist leadership for nearly 15 years.

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