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.

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Read more at JNS

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

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy