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Herzog Affirms Right of Diaspora Jews to Criticize Israel but Insists They Do It Among Themselves

President Chaim Herzog told an audience of overseas Jewish leaders here last night that they “always have and continue to have a right to express an opinion about what is happening in Israel and about Israeli policy.”

But, in his address to the closing session of the 22nd International Conference of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, Herzog qualified that right by asserting that criticism of Israel should not be aired in public, but rather discussed within the confines of Jewish circles. He stressed further that “While advice and criticism should be open and be regarded as legitimate, it must be given under the prior understanding that the final decision rests with those who have to bear the consequences of any policy or political or military decision,” meaning Israelis.

Herzog’s position on an issue which developed into a major theme during the week-long conference, seemed to fall somewhere between a declaration by the delegates asserting “the right of diaspora Jews to exercise a vigorous involvement in issues which concern their fellow Jews living in the Jewish State” and the blunt statement by Energy Minister Yitzhak Modai, in his address to the gathering last week, that diaspora Jews “have no right to get involved in political debates conceming Israel’s security.”

Modai delivered that injunction a few evenings after Rabbi Richard Hirsch, executive director of the World Union, spoke out forcefully “in support of the right of diaspora Jewry to have a say in Israel’s domestic and foreign policies.” Hirsch referred specifically to the controversy over Israeli settlement policies on the West Bank and their consequences. The delegates appeared upset by Modai’s comments.


President Herzog intimated in his speech that the way for diaspora Jews to widen the scope of their influence over affairs in Israel is to cease being diaspora Jews and settle here. He recalled that then Premier David Ben Gurion “said 35 years ago that there was nothing to prevent you from increasing your constituency by immigrating from abroad which would give you a stronger and perhaps more decisive voice within the framework of the difficult debate in this country and could thus influence the developments in Israel in the direction desirable to you.”

Nevertheless, Herzog observed, “Your non-Jewish environment has decided, whether you like it or not, and many probably don’t like it, to identify you with Israel, for good or for bad. As a result of that, Israel cannot dare ignore the effects of our policy and actions on world Jewry. This leads me to the conclusion that you always have and continue to have a right to express an opinion about what is happening in Israel and about Israeli policy.”