Outgoing Diaspora Minister, Nahcman Shai
Outgoing Diaspora Minister, Nahcman ShaiIsrael National News

At noon (Monday) the Ministry of Diaspora held a ministerial exchange ceremony in the presence of incoming minister Amichai Shikli (Likud) and outgoing minister Nachman Shai.

Minister Shai summarized his activities. "The Jewish people are eternal People. During my work as Minister of the Diaspora I touched the Jewish people, I touched eternity. There is a challenge here that is different from other ministries. The ministry does not only deal with the here and now but the also the future. This is why, unfortunately, [top government officials] don't fight for this ministry. It's also the reason that the Israeli public doesn't engage much - or at all with it. We are busy with the here and now and not with our brothers in the Diaspora."

He expressed concern about the new government. "Israel has changed, not only because of the election results. For many, the Diaspora is just part of history and so they tell Jews in the Diaspora that if they have it bad, they should 'just immigrate to Israel.'"

"On the first day of my job, I spoke with the three heads of different denominations of Judaism and made it clear that all were equal. And this is something that under attack today. I encouraged open dialogue between the Jewish communities in Israel. I believe that they can criticize Israel; they don't have to agree. They should express their opinion," he added.

"I want to warn: Voices are already being heard in the public arena that would take administrative and legislative measures threatening our relations with the Diaspora. These calls are being made irresponsibly, without examination and certainly without dialogue and understanding. The great work we have invested could go down the drain if the government acts unilaterally and passes decrees that will distance millions of Jews, including those who want to exercise their right to immigrate to Israel." "Governments come and go, but the Jewish world remains where it is," he concluded.

Minister Shikli said: "I call from here on the organizations who have shown initiative in the fight against anti-Semitism and delegitimization to continue their struggle. We will be here by your side."

"I am fully attentive to the concerns among some of the world's communities. I believe that reality will prove a significant part of these concerns as false," he added.

In a speech to journalists on December 19, Shai did not hold back when speaking about the challenges faced by the incoming government in maintaining ties between world Jewry and State of Israel

Shai, who has a background in journalism, and previously served in the Knesset as part of Israel’s Labor party, said he was "disturbed" by Netanyahu's approach to forming the new coalition government.

“Some of the elected officials lack sufficient experience and in any opinion, some of the coalition’s demands contradict and even contravene the democratic character of the state of Israel,” Shai said. “They have been given a playground of powers; they are high on zeal and euphoria. It is alarming, it is dangerous and it will potentially damage our relationship with the global Jewish world and the international entente and the very future of the state of Israel.”

Shai’s comments are in line with those he has made repeatedly about Netanyahu since his election victory in November.

Netanyahu, Shai told the Times of Israel last month, “made some mistakes. [Former Israeli ambassador to the United States Ron] Dermer made some mistakes. Together they made a decision to get closer to the Evangelicals than to the Jewish population. I think that’s the wrong orientation.”

Among the issues he has criticized were Netanyahu’s approach to the “Western Wall compromise,” in which an egalitarian prayer section was supposed to be set up for Reform and Conservative Jews at the Western Wall. Its implementation has been stalled by haredi parties in Israel for years, and members of the incoming government have said they are not interested in catering to non-Orthodox Jews.

”I’m a political person, so I have to say that I blame the previous governments for neglecting the aspects of Jewish Diaspora in running their business in Israel,” Shai told the Jerusalem Post in an interview On December 19, citing the Western Wall as a key site of inattention.

“First and foremost, I am concerned that the incoming government will damage the ties between the Jewish global community and Israel,” Shai said in a welcome address at the fifth annual Jewish Media Summit, which is run by Israel’s Government Press Office. “And not necessarily intentionally, but partly as a result of differences in ideology, partly as a result of political affiliation and partly because of ignorance and unwillingness to understand the situation on the ground.”