JERUSALEM (EJP)---Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Steve Linde claimed anti-Israel sentiment is “a guise for politically-correct anti-Semitism” at the Presidential Conference on Tuesday, as he moderated a discussion panel entitled Being Jewish in the Diaspora.
The panel, which included representatives from Italian, American, New Zealand and Mexican Jewish communities discussed the global problems and associated solutions facing modern Diaspora Jewry.
First to share his thoughts was Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations.
The US Jewish leader spoke at length about the impact that globalisation has had on Jewish communal life in the Diaspora, making “the world a smaller place, it means everything is integrated, al problems and solutions are inter-related”.
Describing the Jews as “the first global people”, he related “conspiracy” theories of Jews running key global industries a direct result of misinterpreting “the global nature of the Jewish people and our inter-relations with each other”.
Hoenlein went on to say that, despite the need to be realistic and to focus our resources to act on a global scale to combat common problems across Jewish communities, “there are contradictory trends”.
Reflecting on the “good” nature of Diaspora life in the US, he spoke of the increased risk of assimilation this sense of integration brings, adding that “a lot of the problems we face are because life is better, the barriers came down”.
Lauding education as the solution to apathy, he spoke of the “collective responsibility” Judaism teaches us with regards to educating children, adding that in the US, whilst the Catholic church teaches its followers to take their children in hand until the aged of six, “we (American Jews) take our children for granted – we ignore them until 18 when we send them on Birthright and expect Israel to save them. Israel does do a good job, it does open their eyes, but then they go to college campuses and fall victim to deligitimisation”.
He describe deligitimisation of Israel as “a global phenomenon impacting every area of society”, he insisted to widespread applause from the audience:
“It’s not about policies, where borders should be or settlements. It’s not about ’67, it’s about ’47. It’s about Israel’s right to exist, but it’s not just about Israel, it’s about the Jewish people and the Jewish peoples’ rights.”
“But it’s not politically correct to say ‘I hate Jews’ in most places,” he continued, “but it is politically correct to say ‘I hate Israel’ and we filed this generation because we allowed Zionism to become a pejorative term. That should not be tolerated and it has to be turned around.”
Speaking of Israel being “a part of the Diaspora today”, he spoke passionately about rejecting the old ideas of the Diaspora saving Israel from its invading Arab neighbours of old, saying “no more the patronising talk of what we did for Israel in the 1960s, it’s about what Israel’s doing for us now, it’s saving our children”.
Describing deligitimisation as “our fault”, he continued to say:
“We raised the bar on what we tolerate. We have to draw the line and say no more: we’re not going to allow Israel to be delegitimised any more with the lies, distortions and the misrepresentations that are so common in the press and we see increasingly in evidence. Martin Luther King once said we won’t be judged by the attacks of our enemies but by the silence of our friends. We are the friends of Israel, we in the Diaspora have to stand up in support of it.”
Rachel Korpus, President of the Zionist Federation of New Zealand, paid tribute to Israel’s support of the small Jewish community, which she described as “a defining factor of Jewish continuity in New Zealand”.
Speaking of the challenges of speaking of a collective Diaspora, she said: “For me, for my community, Diaspora is a loaded word. My Diaspora, my New Zealand Diaspora is not the Diaspora of my friends in Sydney or Melbourne, or perhaps the people around me on this panel. So yes, we are all labelled as Jews living in the Diaspora, but our experiences and challenges are different and diverse.”
Sharing the challenges facing her own community, she described its remoteness as key, quipping that “it takes two and a half days to get here (Israel) and you wake up two and a half days later”, she spoke of the two other principle issues New Zealand Jews face as firstly the size of the community, saying that with 10,000-15,000 members “we have no critical mass, which doesn’t make us any less critical, but it is challenging to find a Jewish voice locally, outside our community, within the government space and internationally”.
Korpus claimed the other main obstruction to Jewish continuity in New Zealand is “creating sustainable and effective leadership to maintain Jewish identity and continuity for their own community”, adding that “in other words the birds like the leave the nest and it is a huge challenge to maintain Jewish leadership in the community, because that is our future”, adding that many of the “pioneering” affiliated Jews emerging from established youth movements go on to make aliyah to Israel.
The sole European contributor to the panel was Italian Emanuele Ferano, a member of the Chamber of Deputies in Italy with portfolio for Interior Defence and a former chairman of the Jewish community in Milan. Representing the “oldest Jewish community in the Diapora”, Ferano joked that “we are about 30,000 Jews in Italy, but as Italians we are allowed to say we’re 50,000-60,000. Italian non-Jews think we’re about 1 million and we let them think this”.
He went on to discuss the dramatic decline in numbers of the Italian Jewish community, stressing that the number of students at the Jewish school in Milan had halved to about 500 since he attended. Speaking of the question of what future lies ahead of the Jewish Diaspora, he said “for us, the question should not be what kind of future there will be, but how long will our future be fir Jewish communities in Italy”.
Defining the most important issues facing smaller communities in the Diaspora, he classified them as “the question of identity and education”, using his own family background as an example, stating as the son of an Auschwitz survivor, all his father’s family were assimilated Jews and they were all killed in the Holocaust. Referring to his mother’s more involved Jewish, he described how of his two other brothers, he is the only one whose children have both opted to stay in Milan, and who both attended Jewish school and were involved in Jewish youth movements.
He continued to extol the necessity of including Jewish children in the collective future of small Diaspora communities, saying:
“In a Jewish family, we practice many different kinds of ways of being Jewish. The most important point for us is to struggle for a common open Jewish vision for our community. Let’s open all the doors to our communities in the Diaspora to any kind of Jew we know. I don’t think there is one kind of Jew that can judge, can say some other Jew is more or less Jewish than him. And I think that we have in the Diaspora, at least the Italian Diaspora, many Jews not of school age, that don’t have children of school age, that don’t have parents involved, who feel they are Jewish but are invisible for most of the Jewish institutions. We have to reach them. We need an inclusive vision for our communities, to include people not exclude them.”
He concluded the future of our communities is in establishing new leadership, adding “a new young leadership will succeed, will fulfil the goal of continuity of Judaism if it succeeds in reaching all these invisible Jews. An open identity and a new leadership are two main goals in building up continuity of Jewish communities in the Diaspora.”
Next to speak was Judit Bokser Liwerant, a Professor of Political Science at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico and head of the Academic Committee of the Universidad Hebraica, as well as a prolific author in the field of political theory, collective identities and contemporary Latin American Jewry.
Speaking of the collective Jewish obsession with demography, she described the challenges that analysing the Jewish population of Latin America presents, reflecting it needs to be examined “with a new perspective”. Developing that official figures position the size of Latin America’s Jewish community at 400,000, she added there are similar numbers of Latin American Jews living abroad, in the US and Israel, she said “we are living in a Jewish Diaspora that has become not just global, but trans-national, meaning that the movements keep on going, migration is not only an individual decision, but migration influences the societies left behind and the destination societies”.
Approximating the size of Mexico’s individual Jewish community at 35,000-40,000, she said that as in Italy “In Latin American, people think millions of Jews live and there is an explanation for that. The Jewish community delivers culturally, socially and economically. Secondly, the density and organised institutional density of Jewish life – take Mexico for example, there Jewish communities arrived as other schools were founded. Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, you have a German school, a French school and 17 Jewish schools – this shows a kind of inner creativity, inner force, institutional creativity that of course has an important impact on society”.
Describing the social, economic and cultural challenges brought by the increase in globalisation in the Jewish world, she concluded “I think diversity and plurality is part of our Jewish world and we have to accept it. Identities are diverse and there are divides and separations and there are different axis where the Jewish world might be seen both as powerful and also as vulnerable, in the Diaspora and in Israel. So if we can think in global terms, the way we benefit from these past and present interactions, we can really approach with many more intellectual and other resources some of the main challenges we are facing.”