Bridging the gap between Israel and the Diaspora
Since the emergence of of the State of Israel 75 years ago, there has been a flux in the relationship between Israel and diaspora communities. The Diaspora used to be referred to in Hebrew as the galut which translates as exile. This was reflective of an Israeli view that the communities outside of Israel were lesser in their expression of Zionism. The view has matured with a greater understanding of the importance, mutuality and indeed, interdependence of the relationship between Israel and the Jewish people worldwide. This can be expressed with a prevailing concept of global Jewish peoplehood.
Last Sunday, I was privileged to participate in a strategy lab as part of an initiative being developed by Israel’s President, Isaac Herzog, which is called Kol Ha’am – Voice of the People. This is the President’s initiative for worldwide Jewish dialogue which aims to bridge the gaps between Israel and diaspora Jewish communities and also to strengthen the relationship between Jewish communities worldwide.
In the lead up to the lab, Plus61J Media conducted a survey entitled Crossroads23 across Australian Jews in order to determine trends in domestic attitudes to Israel and the relationship with the Diaspora. This yielded some interesting data. The survey found that 90% of respondents believe that it is important for Australian Jews to maintain close ties with Israel and 86% believe Israel’s existence is essential for the future of the Jewish people. The survey found that there was a weakening of confidence in the policies of the Israeli government with significant drop off in comparison to questions asked in the Gen 17 survey. Some domestic concerns regarded a perceived erosion in the state of Israel’s democracy and perceived levels of corruption in Israel’s government. An interesting dichotomy was that 79% agreed that Jews outside of Israel can publicly express their views on the Israeli government and its policies, but 57% believed that “Israelis do not care what Diaspora Jews think”.
In a video message at the lab, President Herzog explained that he recognised that fault lines had emerged between Israel and the Diaspora and that there was less agreement and a depreciation in the capacity to talk. He felt that the greatest threat to the Jewish people came from within and was a result of alienation of segments of the Jewish population. He aims to deepen conversations by creating a space for dialogue. This is something he referred to as akin to a global Jewish Beit Midrash (house of learning).
President Herzog categorised the need for a global Jewish dialogue that is inclusive, compelling and healing.
The lab I participated in was one of 15 strategic labs being conducted worldwide among communities in North America, Latin America, Europe, South Africa, Australia and Israel.
The labs are broadly aimed towards developing a form of global council that addresses the relationship between and among the global Jewish communities. President Herzog identified an ideological divide between Jewish worldview and beliefs that has diminished the relationship between Israel and many diaspora communities. This has been seen in unprecedented protests among Jewish communities across the world against the legislative agenda of the current Israeli government.
The President characterised Kol Ha’am as reflecting diverse voices, fostering the development of future leaders in Jewish communities and providing open candid conversations. He said that it should be politically non-partisan and should involve communities in co-creating solutions. He felt that he could leverage his proximity to Israel’s political leadership to influence and change outcomes within Israel in response to views from the voice. He said that above all else the initiative sees a collaborative future between the Diaspora and Israel.
President Herzog identified that a global council might work collectively to combat the rise of antisemitism, the challenges to Jewish continuity and the fragmentation of Jewish communities.
The lab worked in sub groupings which explored these ideas. There was healthy cynicism in relation to how this initiative would differentiate itself from previous iterations of global councils such as the World Zionist Congress and the World Zionist Organisation. Further, a commonly expressed issue was whether an Israeli President’s proximity to leaders would be a sufficient power source to allow Kol Ha’am to actually achieve concrete outcomes.
Further, in my group there was substantial discussion regarding how to best manage diverse views and not get blocked by conflict among participants with differing religious or political beliefs.
My favourite moment of the day was when one participant suggested that the first key task of Kol Ha’am could be to enshrine the relationship between the Diaspora and Israel with a ‘Declaration of Interdependence’ which could act as a partner document to Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
The organisers suggested that the next steps in the President’s initiative would be to complete the worldwide lab series, then to synthesise all the relevant input and feedback. Following this the facilitators would prepare a report and recommendations for the President. The aim is for a global Kol Ha’am council to be formed by the end of 2024.
In a school community that recognises the centrality of Israel to our understanding and expression of Jewish identity we will be watching closely to observe the progress of this initiative.