Israel Must 'Reinvent' Relationship with Diaspora

"Perpetuation of the Jewish people is what I live for" Minister tells WJC; says Israel must do more to reach out to Diaspora Jewry.

Natan Epstein,

WJC Pres. Ronald Lauder with Naftali Bennett
WJC Pres. Ronald Lauder with Naftali Bennett
Shimon Arbiv

Economy and Trade Minister, Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi/Jewish Home), appeared today before the World Jewish Congress's Executive Committee in Jerusalem, and addressed a number of key issues on his agenda, including his vision for the Israeli economy and the relationship between Jewish communities in Israel and the Diaspora.

"My vision is that the Israeli economy will be one that is a beacon of light to the world," he said, going on to explain how Israel's flourishing economy was having a positive impact beyond its own borders.

"We have opened farms of agriculture in India; experts from around the world come to Israel to learn methods and techniques from us. My ministry did that. So yes, some things might not be solved immediately, but we are doing well right now."

"Israel is a lighthouse in a storm," he added, "through the Arab spring that has turned into a Muslim winter. And we are going to project that light."

Bennett also took the opportunity to impart a story about what he saw as a defining moment in his life that was key in shaping his political outlook.

"Growing up in the eighties, I had a standard youth. It was not defined by the Yom Kippur war that occurred shortly after I was born, and so I never experienced an existential threat. Israel was guaranteed.

"We grew up on songs of peace, and that if we try enough, we'll have peace. That's why in the second Lebanon war, as a combat commander, I asked myself what it was that Hezbollah want.

"That's when I understood that they don’t have a territorial claim, that if given to them they will strike a deal. They just don’t want us here - it has nothing to do with land. It has to do with Israelis being here."

Bennett also spoke about his other role as Minister of Diaspora, insisting that Israel needs "to reinvent our relationship" with Jewish communities outside of Israel.

Claiming that in the past, Diaspora communities were seen as "only a wallet and a source of emigration to Israel," he asserted that "today, we need a new model."

"Israel is the state of its citizens, of all denominations, but it is also the state of Jews all around the world," he declared.

"My own parents emigrated from San Fransisco, so being Minister of Diaspora is my identity."

"Our main threat these days is assimilation," he continued. "We are losing thousands of Jews to assimilation. Perpetuation of the Jewish people is what I live for. We need to strengthen the Jewish identity around the world, the 'peoplehood'. Israelis do not have a strong enough bond to Jews abroad, and we want Jews around the world to feel Israel is at the core."