Israeli President Ezer Weizman will sponsor a two-day dialogue next month that aims to break new ground in Israel’s relations with Diaspora Jewry.
Weizman took the initiative because he feels that “both Israel and the Jewish communities should re-evaluate their relationship and identities,” said Yossi Amrani, the president’s political adviser.
In a recent letter, Weizman called the dialogue a “launching pad” for efforts to strengthen the Israel-Diaspora relationship, “and in this way to face the threat of assimilation.”
“New bridges are needed,” he wrote, “to prevent ourselves from drifting apart.”
Amrani said the discussion will be different from many other similar endeavors because the 200 participants who have been tapped represent intellectual, academic, political and artistic circles, and not just “official” Jewish leadership. One-third will be Israeli, while two-thirds will be from the Diaspora.
New developments require new ideas and new formulas for maintaining Israel-Diaspora links, said Amrani.
He pointed to the increasingly “inward” direction of the Jewish Diaspora, the improvement in U.S.-Israeli relations, and recent advances in the Middle East peace process and the Israeli economy.
A de-emphasis on the threat to Israel’s “physical existence,” he said, permits a shift in attention to what he called “spiritual” matters. Primary among these is the question of strengthening Jewish identity for both Diaspora Jews and Israelis.
‘A PARTNERSHIP OF COOPERATION’
Israel’s new economic strength calls for a “new partnership” between Israel and the Diaspora, wrote Weizman, “a partnership of cooperation, whereby we do not only receive but also give.”
The dialogue is being launched in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry. But Amrani insisted that the event, which has been in the works for months, is completely independent of recent calls by Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin for “frank dialogue” and a radical reassessment of the Israel-Diaspora relationship.
Still, in an oblique nod to the explosion around Beilin’s remarks, Amrani said it is clear that “something is happening” to shake up the relationship.
“It’s important that someone take the leadership to exchange views and end the arguments,” he said. “The president believes it’s his responsibility. He believes it’s important to have frank and open dialogue and find some common ground.”
In holding the conference, Weizman appears to be trying to undo some of the damage he did early in his tenure with Diaspora leaders. At several meetings he emphasized the centrality of aliyah to the degree that he was seen as disparaging Jewish life in the Diaspora.
His effort to explain himself and to set things right was apparent in a letter last month to a U.S. Jewish organizational leader.
“My whole life has been dedicated to the realization of the Jewish dream, building a homeland for the Jewish people,” he wrote. “It has always been agonizing for me” to see “the majority of the Jewish people choosing to live somewhere else, not in Israel.”
“Having so said, it should not be regarded as disrespect for Jewish life elsewhere,” he added.
Arieh Shomer, director-general of the President’s Office, said Weizman still believes that aliyah is the “most important component of the peace process.” There is strength in Jewish numbers, he said.
“But he understands that people have problems” that stand in the way of their making aliyah, Shomer said.
He added that the president’s sponsorship of the dialogue is a clear indication that the issue of Israel-Diaspora relations is a high priority.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the World Zionist Organization, who work to strengthen Israel-Diaspora ties, reportedly were miffed that the president had taken the initiative and made plans without consulting them.
But a senior Jewish Agency official would only say they are worried it might not be planned properly. “This is a very important dialogue that may help further Israel-Diaspora relations,” he said. “But we have some concerns such a dialogue has to be prepared more in advance.”
Other Jewish Agency sources said they feared causing damage to relationships in the Diaspora if mistakes are made and certain people get excluded from the event, which is scheduled for June 22 and 23. Several Jewish Agency officials have been invited to participate.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.