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June 29, 2018 10:52 am

Jewish NGO Presses Israeli Cabinet on Need for Greater Outreach to Diverse Diaspora

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Israeli Prime inister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 24, 2018. Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL. – The Jewish People Policy Institute presented its 2018 Annual Assessment of the Situation and Dynamics of the Jewish People earlier in the week to the Israeli cabinet.

According to the JPPI, the ongoing close relationship with the Trump administration, coordination with Russia in Syria, and improving relations with India and China have all been good developments for Israel over the past year. However, the increasing Russian influence in the Middle East, US desires to leave the region and Europe, as well as growing populism present challenges for Israel going forward. At the same time, the Trump administration’s possible peace plan also presents an uncertainty for Israel.

A bulk of the discussion also focused on the challenges faced by Israel and the Jewish people, including concern over the widening gap between Israel and certain segments of the global Jewish community, such as non-Orthodox and progressives, as well as the concern in maintaining bipartisan support for Israel.

“For the first time in its history, Israel is becoming a partisan political issue. This is not yet evident in the US Congress, but it becomes increasingly evident among the general American public and dealing with this is a strategic imperative,” said JPPI co-chair Stuart Eizenstat.

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JPPI president Avinoam Bar-Yosef Bar-Yosef stressed that besides investing in the non-Orthodox community, “we can’t ignore millions of identified Jews in the general Jewish community, and Israel should encourage the growing Orthodox public to engage in politics and public service on the national level because as they grow numerically, the burden of the Jewish future rests on their shoulders.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged knowing that “non-Orthodox and progressives have some concerns.”

“Contrary to popular opinion, it is not true that I am writing off liberals, Democrats and non-Orthodox Jews,” he said. “We know we have a problem. The Kotel [Western Wall] issue will be solved, and we are very close to doing it but the conversion issue is more complicated politically.”

Other cabinet members echoed Netanyahu’s call for greater outreach. Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) also agreed that it was imperative not to disregard non-Orthodox Jews, while Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett suggested the government invest an additional 1 billion shekels in young generations in the Diaspora.

Eizenstat also suggested that Israel leverage its own diverse communities to foster outreach to Hispanic, Asian and African-American communities.

The cabinet discussion comes as Isaac Herzog, former Israeli Opposition Leader, has been elected as the new leader of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Among Herzog’s top priorities is to bridge the gap between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.

In recent years, relations between the Israeli government and Diaspora Jewry have been strained due to a number of issues, including egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, as well as the Israeli Rabbinate’s control over Jewish conversion and marriage.

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