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Panel Formed to Re-examine Israeli Ties to the Diaspora

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has launched a drive to examine and prepare for the changing relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jews, according to Labor Party veteran Uri Gordon.

Gordon, head of the immigration and absorption department of the Jewish Agency for Israel, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency this week that Peres has tapped him to head a new committee dedicated to the effort.

The committee is being formed, according to a letter from Peres to Gordon, partly in recognition of the “significant transformation” of Diaspora Jewry in recent decades as well as the lack of a special connection felt by Israelis toward Diaspora Jews.

In the Diaspora, “the generation that lived through the horrors of the Holocaust and saw the birth of the State of Israel is slowly aging,” Peres wrote. At the same time, “the Jewish communities are increasingly occupied with their own internal problems.”

Meanwhile, “Israeli society is distancing itself from Diaspora Jewry,” Peres wrote.

But the foreign minister’s brainchild is also, and perhaps more urgently, a product of Israel’s posture “on the threshold of an era of peace in the Middle East.”

“The realities of such a peace will completely alter the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora,” Peres wrote.

On one hand, the diminished threat to Israel’s security will reduce the “binding force” between the two Jewries, “while, on the other hand, many new opportunities for economic and spiritual cooperation” will surface.

The Israeli government was under fire for many months following its election last year for failing to cultivate good relations with Diaspora Jewry. Peres’ new committee appears to be part of a recent campaign of more careful diplomacy.

Meanwhile, Gordon conceded the initiative is only one of many dedicated to the complex Israel-Diaspora connection. Indeed, he is one of the founders of another well-established group with the same purpose, the Israel Forum.

But Gordon says this is not business as usual. “I’m not talking only about a new project,” he said. “I am talking of a new conception, a completely fresh look at the problem.”

Gordon stressed that the endeavor would be independent, “without connection to the WZO or the Jewish Agency.” Eytan Bentsur, the senior deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry, has been appointed to serve with Gordon as co-chair of the committee.

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