BEILIN’S REMARKS ON JEWS’ `CHARITY’ RAISE HACKLES IN ISRAEL AND DIASPORA. Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin, known for his penchant for provocation, set off a firestorm of protest when he told an international meeting of Zionist women that Israel has a strong economy and does not need Diaspora charity.
“This is the truth,” said Beilin, according to Associated Press reports. “If our economic situation is better than in many of your countries, how can we go on asking for your charity?”
Beilin made the remark after a speech to the Women’s International Zionist Organization, prompting loud protest from the delegates.
According to press reports, Beilin subsequently was taken to task by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who defended the role of Diaspora Jewish organizations and their appeals for Israel.
Meanwhile, members of the World Zionist Organization’s Executive sharply criticized Beilin’s remarks at a meeting Monday, warning they could harm fund- raising campaigns for Israel.
“The greatest mistake that Israel can make is to separate Diaspora Jewry from the State of Israel and to callously stop the contribution of Diaspora Jewry to the ingathering of the exiles and the building of the State of Israel,” Simcha Dinitz, chairman of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization, said in a statement released after the meeting.
“Whoever proposes disturbing the partnership between Israel and the Diaspora does not understand the essence of Zionism, that Israel is not just the country of the Israelis, it is the homeland of the entire Jewish people,” Dinitz said.
Those close to Beilin, however, insist he said nothing new. They say he was merely talking about the need to redefine the Israel-Diaspora relationship and has been doing so for a long time.
“But the (WIZO) ladies began to yell at him and didn’t want to listen to his message,” said a source in Beilin’s office who declined to be identified. “There was no dialogue.”
Beilin’s message, the source said, is that the peace process is beginning to allow Israelis the “luxury” of turning away from all-consuming security matters to raise important cultural and social questions that have been neglected.
“We have to rethink the organization of institutions, whether it’s the Histadrut (trade federation), Kupat Holim (national health system) or the Jewish Agency, which began in 1929,” he said.
“In 1994, it (the Jewish Agency) should address and redefine its function and objective,” the source said.
What concerns Beilin “is the continuity of Jewish life,” he said. Beilin wants to shift some of the focus from charity for Israel to investing in the education of Diaspora Jews, for which “entities like the United Jewish Appeal are instrumental.”
“That it may be time to change the structure of the UJA is Yossi’s point of view, not a fixed policy,” the source stressed.
Above all, “he wants debate and dialogue,” he said, noting that Beilin just “puts the questions on the table.”
Menachem Revivi, director-general of the UJA in Israel, said he thought Beilin’s statement was “very provocative” and not very helpful.
“It comes with good intentions” of modernizing long-held traditions, he said, but it also reflects a failure to understand what the philanthropy represents for Diaspora Jews.
“It represents their wish to be connected, to be responsible, to be partners in what is theirs as much as ours,” he said.
Revivi said he would welcome the Israeli government taking the initiative to say to the Diaspora that, “after 45 years, we are in a situation where we can rewrite the covenant and set a new agenda for the Jewish people and divide the labor” between Israel and the Diaspora.
But “we do need world Jewry, as much now as in the past,” he emphasized. “We are a Jewish state and they are our best allies, as much in peacetime as in war.”
Still, Revivi seemed to support one of Beilin’s major points.
“Maybe now is the time to see what else should flow into the pipeline,” he said. “I agree Israel should (address) its own responsibility for Jewish continuity worldwide.”
Beilin’s strength, said the source in Beilin’s office, is that he “confronts them (Diaspora Jews) with a different reality” that will have to be faced as the younger generation of Israelis rises to positions of leadership.
“Jews and Israelis should sit down and talk about what this (the generational change) means,” he said.