Naftali Bennett blames Western assimilation for crisis in Israel-Diaspora relations


(JTA) — Naftali Bennett, Israel’s minister for Diaspora affairs, set off the latest round in the long-running saga of sour relations between Israel and the Diaspora by blaming the current “crisis” on the latter.

What he said: 

During a cabinet meeting announcing a new effort to convince French Jews to move to Israel, Haaretz reported, Bennett said, “Israel and the Diaspora are in the throes of an unprecedented crisis. We’re used to being told that it’s because of [prayer rules at] the Western Wall, the Palestinian issue and other ideological controversies. It’s not correct. There’s a terrible problem of assimilation and growing indifference of Jews overseas both to their Jewishness and to Israel. That is the entire story, and it can be defined as a national challenge.”

How it is playing: 

Martin Indyk, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, begged to differ. “There is a crisis between Israel and World Jewry but the reason is not assimilation,” he tweeted. “It’s the extreme policies advocated by @naftalibennett and his government’s refusal to treat Reform and Conservative Jews as equal to his [O]rthodox constituency.”

J Street, the liberal Mideast policy group, also dissented, saying: “It is precisely our Jewish values and concern for Israel’s future that compel us to oppose the occupation and the far-right forces that support it.”

Bennett’s response:

According to the Jewish Chronicle in London, a spokesperson for Bennett denied that the minister’s statements amounted to an attack on Diaspora Jewry. “Minister was not attacking anyone, he was stressing the problem of assimilation and then listed a number of projects the Ministry is investing in to help combat it,” he told the JC.

Those projects, according to the Times of Israel, include the government’s funding for Birthright Israel, the Mosaic United  program for strengthening Jewish identity on campuses, the government tracking of anti-Semitism worldwide and its aid to affected Jewish communities.

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