by Rabbi Benji Levy
This op-ed was first published in The Jerusalem Post on 22 September 2019
In less than one year since my aliyah, I have been through two municipal votes and two national votes. While it has been great to share the closest thing to a Sunday with my family in Israel, it has also encouraged a tremendous amount of debate and discussion around some key issues facing our incredible country.
Politicians will fight over the different ministerial portfolios, reflecting the abundance of issues at stake in these elections. But one of the key ministries that we don’t hear as much about is that of Diaspora Affairs. And yet, this is certainly a ministry worth fighting for!
When President Rivlin shared his vision for a new concept of partnership between the four tribes that comprise the diversity of Israeli society, his message resonated with many people. While election season has a knack for splintering us into too many camps, less than two years ago, our president reached out to Jews around the world and said, “In order to meet this challenge, we need the partnership with you, the fifth tribe, the Jews of the Diaspora.” The next Minister of Diaspora Affairs will play a key role in meeting this challenge.
Antisemitism is rearing its ugly head at alarming rates, including through BDS – a contemporary mutation that questions the very foundation upon which Israel stands. We need to continue to support those dealing with this on the frontlines. While the world becomes more connected digitally, so many Jews have lost touch with the traditional cornerstone of Jewish life: community. The Diaspora Affairs Ministry has been partnering to defend Jewish life and the Jewish way of life from without and promoting and sustaining it from within, in so many ways. This must grow and continue.
We can be proud that the Jewish State created a ministry charged with making Jews around the world a national priority. Through its work, it bolsters the relationship between Israelis and the Diaspora, combats antisemitism, and works to encourage a stronger link between Jews, their Jewish identities and their connections with Israel. The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs has achieved incredible things, touching Jews around the world - but we always need to do more and there has never been a more important time to do so.
Some of the proudest moments in modern history, from Operation Entebbe to Operation Solomon, bring the Talmudic dictum to life: kol Yisrael arevim zeh bezeh. All of the people of Israel are responsible for one another. Historically, Jews (in every place they lived) formed countless communal welfare societies to support those in need. In the decades before its founding and during much of its infancy, Israel relied on the goodwill, financial support, and political assistance of Jews around the world. With a prosperous and secure Israel, the Israeli people and government – through the Diaspora Affairs Ministry and other channels – actively do supporting as well. Ensuring the continuation and vibrancy of our people, wherever we may be, is a sacred obligation.
While the first and most critical reason for our connection is steeped in our values, the relationship with and success of Jewish communities abroad has strategic importance as well. A healthy and strong Diaspora pays practical dividends. Jews contribute billions and billions annually to Israeli causes. Whether invested in health care facilities, educational opportunities, or environmental activities, it is hard to overstate the impact of philanthropy on that scale. Tourism by Diaspora Jews accounts for significant revenue, representing over a quarter of visitors to this country. These are just two of many illustrations that a stronger Jewish world outside of Israel makes a stronger Israel.
Amidst the coalition negotiations, newly-elected MKs are vying over policies and portfolios. Our fellow Jews in the Diaspora face serious dilemmas and now that the votes are in and coalition negotiations are in progress, this too deserves serious consideration. The individual tapped to take on the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs will have the awesome responsibility to ensure Israel’s role in strengthening the state of the Jews outside of the State. Among the important areas that have been deemed worthy to have a ministry, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry is more important today than ever before.