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Your Voice Matters: Embracing Direct Consultation between Israel and World Jewry

By Naama Klar: Published in e-Jewish Philanthropy

Growing up, Ariel, the character from Disney’s The Little Mermaid, was my hero. I must have seen the movie over a hundred times, running the VCR tape back and forth. Her wavy hair, funny friends and spirit of resistance enchanted me as a girl.

One of the most heartbreaking moments of the movie is when Ursula manipulates Ariel into sacrificing her voice for the sake of her love. Ursula then uses Ariel’s voice in order to break the bond between Ariel and her love interest.

Indeed, “having a voice,” both physically and metaphorically, is central to human experience, and one of the foundations of the modern-democratic world in which we live today. Our voice is indispensable for our relationships and engagements and is essential for the expression of genuine feelings and thoughts. This is true when it comes to couples, parents and children, as well as in large communities and nations.

This is why the answer to the often-posed question: “Should world Jewry have a voice in Israel?” is a definite ‘Yes.’ Even though it sounds radical and might shake up the current status quo, direct consultation between a kin state and its diaspora has roots in other Western democracies, and in Israeli history and legislation. The best example is the 1998 Ne’eman Committee that dealt with accepting foreign conversions in Israel.

Currently, there are some outlets for the Jewish voice in Israel – through global Jewish institutions, ad-hoc processes, and participatory philanthropy. All of these have an impact, but they still haven’t created the effective communications we need today. So, it is time to start talking about a new mechanism for world Jewry’s voice in Israel, and what it should look like.

Israeli decision-makers often fail to realize the effects some of their decisions have on Jewish communities around the world, and on their desire to connect with Israel. Some issues that are perceived as domestic in Israeli eyes, are de-facto foreign-Jewish issues. This blind-spot in the Israeli Knesset and government then leads to damage to Jewish communities and leadership, widens the emotional gap and makes it harder for Israel to fulfill the Zionist vision: to serve as a meaningful homeland for every Jew.

Hence, having an efficient outlet for the Jewish voice within Israeli national institutions is an Israeli interest, and the conversation about it is primary Israeli.

The mere existence of such a consultation mechanism would strengthen the partnership and sense of belonging between world Jewry and Israel, raise awareness among Israeli decision-makers of their influence and responsibility vis-a-vis other Jewish communities, and bring about smarter policymaking. Furthermore, enabling a productive dialogue would reduce the antagonism that many young Jews feel when their voice isn’t included in the conversation.

Against the backdrop of a life-threatening global pandemic, a direct consultation mechanism can play even a greater role: allowing Israel and world Jewish communities to share knowledge and experience in dealing with common challenges. If we can communicate effectively when Israeli policies are being shaped, Israel and Jewish communities can become stronger together – not just as a slogan.

Now, how should this direct consultation mechanism work? At the Reut Group, we advocate embracing a direct consultation mechanism for processes of legislation and policymaking, on a short list of pre-determined topics (including the management of holy sites, Law of Return, conversions, joint educational programming, etc.). We are open to challenges to this model, and seek to improve it. We also encourage others to propose alternative models. May the best model win.

In a few days, the GA (JFNA’s General Assembly) will open a session to discuss the question of: “The View from Israel: Should World Jewry Have a Voice?.” The panel will include three Israeli MKs and JFNA President Eric Fingerhut. This is an exceptional opportunity to stop asking a yes or no question, and start discussing what this mechanism should look like, and how we can promote this solution going forward.

One of the many Biblical names of Israel’s capital happens to be Ariel. Ariel should be able to get the much-needed voice back where it belongs. Now is the time to begin exploring ways to make this happen.

Naama Klar is the deputy CEO of the Reut Group, which leads the “Jewish Peoplehood Coalition” in Israel – a professional network of over 400 leaders, working together to strengthen connections between the Jewish People and Israeli society.

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