Menu JTA Search

Sharansky signals shift of Jewish Agency focus

At the opening plenary of the board of governors meetings of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the agency’s chairman Natan Sharansky told his board that he would like to prioritize Jewish identity over the organization’s traditional focus, immigration to Israel, Haaretz reports.

Following Sharansky’s statement, his predecessor, Ze’ev Bielski, said he hoped immigration to Israel would continue to be the Jewish Agency’s main focus. 

"If we have to think about the challenge we are facing, it’s how to keep all as one family – it’s not enough to speak about aliyah (immigration to Israel)," Sharansky said, adding that: "It’s almost prohibited for the head of Jewish Agency to say so, but it cannot be the goal to bring more Jewish people … We have to think globally." 

These statements, which Sharansky made in a speech in Jerusalem before participants of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, were according to people from the Jewish Agency the first time that Sharansky publicly placed Jewish identity above immigration to Israel, though he did say before that the two issues were equally important. 

Sharansky’s announcement signals the first major policy shift of his year-old administration. While the Jewish Agency was first conceived by the 1922 League of Nations mandate to build the Jewish national home in Palestine and was set up in 1929 as the Yishuv’s quasi-government, the emergence of independent initiatives like Nefesh B’Nefesh in the West and Nativ in Russia have eclipsed its role in the immigration business. 

The chairman presented strengthening Jewish identity as the biggest challenge facing world Jewry. "Our main challenge today in Russia, Ukraine, Argentina and elsewhere is how to bring more kids to informal Jewish education," he said, adding: "We have to build a school of proud Jews, connected to Israel." He also said the Jewish Agency remains committed to bringing Jews to Israel.

Hat tip ejewishphilanthropy.

NEXT STORY