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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

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Nation of Israel feels connected to Diaspora Jewry: new poll

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Tamar Hermann

More than 100 years ago, when the leaders of the Zionist movement outlined their vision for an independent state of Israel, they contemplated creating a new type of Jew. Well, according to the co-author of a recent survey of Israeli Jews, it looks like they succeeded.

Tamar Hermann, a professor with the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), says 60 per cent of Israeli Jews agreed with the proposition “that the Jewish people in Israel are a nation separate from the Jews abroad.”

At the same time, the poll found that a majority of respondents felt a connection between themselves and
Jews in the Diaspora. Eighty-one per cent said they “are interested to know what’s happening with Jews in the Diaspora” and 71 per cent believed the government of Israel should consider the impact of its decisions on Diaspora Jews.

Hermann, who presented the survey findings to the Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem last week, said
the findings indicate Israeli Jews “see great differences” between themselves and Diaspora communities. And that’s just what Zionism’s forefather’s hoped for. They believed that by normalizing their lives, by working the land and becoming soldiers, they would leave “the exilic existence of Jews in the past,” she said.

“That reflects a successful indoctrination process of the Israeli, that they belong to something else,” she
added.

Nevertheless, the ties that bind remain strong, Hermann said on the line from Israel. Asked to name “the primary connection between” Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, 40 per cent said it was “Jewish culture and tradition.” Jewish religious law was the next highest factor cited by respondents, at 18 per cent, followed by Jewish nationality and anti-Semitism at 13 per cent each.

The overwhelming majority of Israelis told pollsters that they shared a common fate with Jews in the Diaspora, although the number is down from previous findings. In 2014, 62 per cent said Jews shared a similar fate, but in a previous poll in 1991, 76 per cent reported that, while the figures from 1999 and 2009 surveys were 70 per cent and 72 per cent respectively.

Adding to the acknowledged connections were responses to two other questions which asked whether the Israeli government should consider the impact of its decisions on Diaspora Jews and whether the government should consider the views of Diaspora Jews when making important decisions. Seventy-one per cent said the government should consider whether its decisions affect Jews in the Diaspora while 51 per cent said the government should take into account the opinions of Diaspora Jews.

Hermann said the question focused on issues of peace and war and on religious issues. Asked if Israel should support Jewish communities in the Diaspora, 39 per cent said it should provide “financial support for Jewish communal activities” and 42 per cent thought it a good idea to help in the “physicaldefence of facilities and people.”

Sixty-two per cent said Israel should continue to send emissaries abroad. In Toronto, Linda Kislowicz, president and CEO of Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA, said the poll’s findings “represents a shift in the nature of the relationship between Diaspora and Israel that has been coming for a while.”

Israelis have long defined themselves in nationalistic terms but they are coming “to recognize that Diaspora Jews have a stake in the country and not just as philanthropists, but a serious stake in how the country develops and evolves.

“It’s much more of a two-way street...World Jewry has felt this for years,” she said. “It is a process of osmosis” spurred in part because of Israel’s continued development and the fact that many Israelis live abroad. The overarching trend of globalization adds to the process, Kislowicz said.

On a practical level, Israel appears to be moving in the direction of more assistance for Jewish communities abroad. Late last year, Diaspora Affairs Minister Nafatali Bennett announced the government was ready to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to try to boost the Jewish identity
of Diaspora communities.

And early last month, the Israeli government approved the “Government of Israel-World Jewry Joint Initiative,” which will include programs developed in co-operation by Israel and world Jewry. The Jewish Agency for Israel is the government’s partner in implementing the initiative.

The Israeli government will provide one-third of the program’s $168 million U.S. budget and two-thirds will
come from world Jewry.

Local community organizations are excited about increasing programming that will link Israel with the Diaspora, Kislowicz said. “I expect Canada will be a good place for pilot projects,” that build on earlier Israel experience events such as Birthright, she added.

The IDI survey was commissioned by the Government of Israel, including the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, along with the Jewish National Fund.

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