Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai on Sunday called for a reversal of thinking about Israel’s relationship with the Diaspora from how Jews abroad can help Israel to how Israel can help them.
Shai made the remarks at an event in Basel, Switzerland, hosted by the World Zionist Organization, marking the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress, where Zionist leader Theodor Herzl laid the groundwork for state formation. of Israel 51 years later.
“Here, 125 years ago, Herzl walked the streets of Basel and formulated his vision. He turned to leaders and influential Jews around the world to mobilize support for a seemingly impossible task: to establish a state for the Jewish people. Without Diaspora Jewry, the State of Israel probably would not have been created,” Shai said.
“Today, 125 years after this pivotal congress, the paradigm has changed. The State of Israel is prosperous and a leader in many areas – and now is the time to ask what Israel can do to secure the destiny of the Jewish people and Jewish resilience around the world,” he said. declared.
Appropriating a quote from former US President John F. Kennedy, the Diaspora Affairs Minister called on Israel “not to ask what the Diaspora can do for Israel – ask what Israel can do for the diaspora”.
In his speech, Shai also touched on the long-running debate over the role that Jews outside Israel play in the country’s politics. Although foreign Jews have played a central role in the formation of the state and its continued existence, they do not have the right to vote in Israel and therefore have no official voice in the country’s decision-making processes.
The Diaspora Affairs Minister spoke specifically of an agreement between Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and American Jewish leader Jacob Blaustein, which created a “delicate balance between involvement and non-interference”. This largely meant that American Jews were encouraged to engage with the nascent state from a distance, and that Israel, in turn, would not seek too forcefully to entice them to immigrate.
Shai called on Israel and Diaspora Jewry to create a new “Blaustein-Ben-Gurion” agreement to encourage greater involvement and engagement between the two communities.
“Instead of standing on the sidelines, we need a relationship of involvement,” Shai said.
“It is our duty as a state and as a government to find ways to bring the voices of global Jewry into the decision-making process within the State of Israel. Many decisions we make in Jerusalem affect not only the citizens of Israel, but also Jewish communities around the world,” he said.
Shai specifically referenced ongoing controversies surrounding the Western Wall Compromise, a long-frozen deal that would give non-Orthodox streams of Judaism official representation in running the holy site. As the Reform and Conservative movements represent the majority of American Jews, this issue remains a stumbling block in improving ties between American Jewry and Israel, as witnessed this summer after Israeli police cleared Orthodox extremists to invade a number of bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies. to the egalitarian section of the Western Wall, known in Hebrew as the Kotel.
“The Kotel problem is a bleeding wound that we as a society need to fix. I am not saying this as a politician, but as an Israeli and a Jew. Under no circumstances should such a rift take place,” Shai said.
The World Zionist Organization event kicked off on Sunday and was scheduled to continue until Tuesday.
Some 1,400 guests were expected at the rally, organizers said. Speakers will include President Isaac Herzog; Miriam Adelson; former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who now runs SoftBank’s operations in Israel; Jewish Agency Chairman Doron Almog; ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt; and Baroness Ariane De Rothschild, President of the Management Board of the Edmond de Rothschild Group, among others.
The conference marks 125 years since the first three-day Zionist Congress in 1897, during which Theodor Herzl addressed more than 200 delegates from around the world. After the lecture, Herzl wrote: “In Basle, [he] founded the Jewish state,” a claim that would become true 51 years later.
“Many of us were born into the reality of the State of Israel existing as a sovereign, powerful, Jewish and values-based entity,” WZO President Yaakov Hagoel said in a statement. Press. “But only five generations ago, that was a distant dream. In a conference room in Basel, the hearts of the delegates to the First Zionist Congress stirred, paving the way for the establishment of the Jewish state.