Natan Sharansky
Natan SharanskyIsrael News photo (file)

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky believes the agency's primary goal should be the strengthening of Jewish identity worldwide. The agency should work with diaspora communities as well as reaching out to Israeli youth, he said Sunday.

Sharansky outlined his vision at the annual Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting in Jerusalem. Representatives of Jewish communities from around the world are attending the three-day event.

Creating a positive Jewish identity is the first step in overcoming the challenges facing Israel, such as increasing aliyah (immigration) and fighting anti-Semitism, Sharansky told his audience. The chairman had high praise for Israel-based educational programs designed for diaspora youth, such as Taglit and Masa. The programs provide the ideal environment to strengthen Jewish identity and increase voluntary immigration, he said.

Over the next five years, Masa will train 5,000 Jewish students in a program geared to encourage Jewish leadership among diaspora youth, Sharansky revealed.

He also discussed the danger of anti-Semitism and expressed concern over hostility toward Israel on United States campuses. Delegitimization of the Jewish state is growing, and blood libels against Israelis are becoming more frequent, he said.

In response, the Jewish Agency plans to work with the Hillel organization to double the number of Israeli emissaries working in college campuses in North America, he said. The emissaries will take an active role in fighting anti-Israel sentiment and false accusations.

In addition to its many projects relating to Jewish identity, the Jewish Agency plans to reach out to the country of Haiti, which recently suffered a devastating earthquake that left at least 520,000 people dead or injured. Sharansky said the agency plans to send a small team to Haiti in the near future, with the goal of determining the best way to provide aid to the country.