Yehezkel Dror, founding president of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, argues that Israel must start seeing itself as part of a wider context of world Jewry, and consult with Diaspora Jews before making decisions which impact upon them. In particular, he recommends that “constitutional provision be made to codify the status of Israel as the state of the entire Jewish people” and that a “Jewish People Council” should set up to advise Israel on Diaspora Jewry’s positions.
It would certainly be a positive step if Israel and Israelis developed a stronger religious identity, and if they gained a better appreciation of the Diaspora’s history, dynamics and needs – and these are both possible, although past experience would not be encouraging. But Israel cannot and will not ever forge the kind of partnership with the Diaspora that Dror advocates.
There are several reasons:
• Firstly, historically, the Zionist movement began as a rebellion against 19th century Jewish existence. A desire to be different from the Diaspora, and as a result, sometimes even scorning it, is part of what Israel is all about (Shlilat Hagalut etc.). It’s not just that such attitudes are too deeply ingrained in the Israeli mentality ever to be completely overcome; asking Israel to “partner” with the Diaspora would in a sense be asking it to go against its own nature.
• Secondly, at this point, after 56 years of Jewish sovereignty, Israel’s interests and priorities are naturally of a completely different nature and magnitude to those of Diaspora Jewry. The concerns, outlook and responsibilities of an Israeli Jew, used to being part of a majority, are completely different to that of a Diaspora Jew, whose minority status is a defining factor and whose Jewish life revolves around a community structure most Israelis never experience and can’t understand. Despite all the commonalities, the two are on diverging paths, which will only diverge more with time.
• Thirdly, Israel and the Diaspora are in no way equally equipped to be partners in decision-making. Israel is a democratic state, in which its citizens have a vote, whilst in the Diaspora, people participate in the community voluntarily, with no civic status within the Jewish people. Which is why organizations such as the Jewish Agency, and the WZO, which set out to bridge certain Israel-Diaspora gaps just as Dror advocates, never really succeeded; who do they actually represent?
GIVING Diaspora Jews power to elect a council which would provide advice to the Israeli government is not an option (and here the Israel-based perspective of Yehezkel Dror neatly illustrates the problematics). How would the countries in which Diaspora Jews reside react to the fact that Jews were some sort of voting citizens of another state? Wouldn't this even endanger Jews in some regimes? Equally, by no means every Jew around the world would welcome the assumption by Israel that they have rights (and therefore responsibilities...) in the State of Israel.
So far, regarding Israel, Diaspora Jewry has accepted its role as friend and supporter, but not decision-maker. I strongly commend Prof. Dror for wanting more for the Diaspora; if only more Israelis showed the same concern. However, more is simply not realistic.