The seemingly growing gap between Israel and Jews in the diaspora threatened to widen even more last week when a major participant in an effort designed to improve the relationship withdrew from the project.
In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from Natan Sharansky and Charles Ratner — chairman and board chairman, respectively, of the Jewish Agency for Israel — the quasi-governmental organization announced that it would not take part in the Joint Initiative of the Government of Israel and World Jewry.
The multimillion-dollar initiative, established by a cabinet resolution last year, was to coordinate activities to strengthen ties between Israel and Jews outside of Israel. Funding was to come from the Israeli government, the Jewish Federations of North America, the World Zionist Organization, and other Jewish organizations and philanthropists.
According to the letter from the Jewish Agency leadership, obtained by Israeli media, “this undertaking has transformed simply into a fundraising framework, for programs to be conducted by a single government Ministry,” an allusion to the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, which is headed by the Naftali Bennett-led Bayit Yehudi Party (Jewish Home) as part of the current government coalition.
The ministry reportedly diminished the role of the Jewish Agency and the Prime Minister’s Office — before specific programs were launched.
“We feel obliged to inform you that we cannot continue to participate in the Initiative as currently formulated,” the letter stated. Sharansky and Ratner wrote that the ministry’s conduct violates the spirit of the cabinet resolution, and that they hope to pursue the initiative’s goals with the Prime Minister’s Office in a different framework.
Such internecine disagreements at the highest levels of government are common, but especially unfortunate at a time when Israel faces political battles with the United States and a possibly existential threat at the hands of a nuclear Iran. The losers are Jewish unity and the Jewish people.