Has the Jewish Agency Lost Sight of Its Purpose?

Oct. 31 2019

This week, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the pre-state organization created to encourage and facilitate Jews’ settlement in their ancestral homeland, announced that it is “refining” its “strategic mission.” According to its chairman, the former Labor-party leader Isaac Herzog, it will now seek to “provide concrete solutions to the greatest challenges facing the Jewish people at this time: mending the rifts among our people, building a two-way bridge between Israel and world Jewry, . . . and providing security for Jews around the world”—as well as “encouraging aliyah.” Ruthie Blum comments:

The only thing really new in this mission lies in its reduced emphasis on immigration to Israel. . . . This subtle yet significant . . . shift in the perception and description of the Jewish Agency’s job has coincided with the evolution of the concept of “Zionism,” . . . now a general term denoting anything from a strong love or political backing for Israel to the wishy-washy, often veiled anti-Israel claim that it has a “right to exist.” So long as it behaves itself, of course.

Long gone are the days when the legendary Israeli prime minister Golda Meir was able to cause Diaspora Jews ill ease—even outright guilt—for remaining in their comfort zone abroad. Passed, too, is the time when Israelis were viewed as traitors for moving to greener pastures in America and Europe, and referred to as such by the likes of the late Israeli prime minister Yitzḥak Rabin.

Ironically, this move away from shaming Jews for not settling or staying in Israel to embracing and strengthening Jewish life in the Diaspora began to take place alongside the re-emergence of anti-Semitism worldwide. . . . Strikingly, whenever a pubic Israeli figure responds to the above by urging Jews to “come home,” or even suggesting that they might, he is chastised for it.

That the Jewish Agency is altering its course somewhat may be unavoidable, particularly in a world that deems “causing offense” to someone practically worthy of the electric chair. But if Herzog imagines that the kind of Israel-Diaspora unity he has in mind will put even the slightest dent in the deep political and ideological rifts at the heart of the divide, he has another think coming.

Read more at JNS

More about: Golda Meir, Isaac Herzog, Israel and the Diaspora, Jewish Agency, Yitzhak Rabin

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount