July 17, 2024
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Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs Updates on New Initiatives

On December 7, during a visit to the United States, Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai briefed the Jewish and Israeli press on Israel’s new approach to its relationship with American Jewry, particularly the rising generation, relations under the new government, and Israel’s role in combating antisemitism. After two days of meetings in New York and a stop in Washington, he also addressed the Israeli-American Council Summit in Miami.

Locally, Shai met with many Jewish organizations and the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield. “The purpose of my visit was to run a dialogue, not just to speak, but listen to help initiate projects and develop partnerships,” Shai said, “to figure out the best we can do from our side.” He announced recent government allocations of around 300 million shekels for projects that build bridges between Diaspora Jews and Israel.

“The idea is to focus on young Americans,” Shai shared. “Hundreds of colleges have active Hillel, Chabad and Olami programs that we would like to connect to Jewish and Israel identity. Operation American Campuses is our first priority.”

Another project focuses on Israelis living in this country. “The conference in Miami is an experiment to see what we can do. We’re going to meet with Israelis living here a long time, to get an idea of what they need. I believe we should help them maintain their relationship with Israel, observing Israeli culture. We have to open channels of communication. They have relatives in Israel. They may decide to stay or return to Israel. It’s their choice.”

Shai explained that the ministry is concerned not only with the 6 million Jews living in the U.S., but also 2 million Jews living elsewhere outside of Israel, with small communities struggling with the rise of antisemitism. “We are committed not to lose one single Jew,” he said. The ministry offers information, data, educational programs, music, and culture about Israel digitally.

“Antisemitism is a disease rising due to digital technologies. We detect hundreds of thousands of messages. We do the job no one else does, as far as I know, monitoring social media and where it comes from. We do it transparently, openly and publicly. We’d like to know who says what and where they got that information. In some cases, we turn to the companies and ask to remove those messages. That’s a new kind of warfare.

“In cabinet discussions, I speak on behalf of the Diaspora,” he continued. “Visits like this help me recharge my batteries, getting to know what people think, feel, and how they see Israel. Whatever we do in Israel impacts Jewish life all over the world. The recent military campaign taught us that when the world turned against Israel, Jews feel that and pay the price.

“When the building in Gaza which housed the AP office went down, it was a turning point. Until that point, public opinion sided with Israel and the legitimacy of the operation. Suddenly, it changed.”

Shai’s ministry is launching a new branch, Renewal Judaism. “Conservative and Reform are getting government funds for the first time. Over 40 smaller organizations that are developing new attitudes towards Judaism will also benefit. They have never been on the recipient list of the government. Even right-wing and Orthodox coalition members support the new attitude towards the three denominations equally treated by the state.”

Shai added: “If there are new ideas, even from the Orthodox community, about Renewal Judaism, they’ll be funded by us because we would like to encourage everyone ready and able to perform Jewishness their own way. It’s better than nothing; there are too many unaffiliated Jews.”

The final project Shai presented concerns educating Israelis about peoplehood. “I represent a generation of Israelis that had relatives all over the world. Diaspora was part of our life. There are three generations of Israelis born since the creation of the state. 78% of Israelis who currently live in Israel were born in independent Israel. They lack this sense of peoplehood. We didn’t teach Diaspora in school; we were ashamed of it. We cut the roots of the Jewish people. You, in the Diaspora, don’t belong to us. There is no present without past, no future without present. It’s time to learn the roots and Jewish communities around the globe.”

Shai has led many Knesset delegations to meet American federations and communities. He explained that MKs didn’t understand how Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews all believe the Kotel belongs to them; these groups cared about the discussions in the Knesset about the Kotel. The Conservative and Reform movements want Bibi’s outline, endorsed by the Knesset in 2016, to be implemented.

After a brief Q&A session, the media group had a quick meet-and- greet with the new Consul-General, Asaf Zamir.

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