Diaspora Jews-a campaign issue
March 22, 2019
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Diaspora Jews can’t vote in Israeli elections.
It’s been proposed and, so far, consistently shot down by Israeli lawmakers.
And, let’s be honest, the average Israeli voter rarely, if ever, thinks about Diaspora Jews. And they base their votes on the same issues that voters in other countries do—for example, the economy, education, health care and security (OK, so the last one is more an Israeli thing).
So it should come as no surprise that most of the candidates in Israel’s national elections on April 9 are not really worried about having Diaspora Jewry on their agendas or their platforms.
But that isn’t stopping one nongovernmental organization from trying.
Gesher is circulating a 30-second video clip in which nine young Diaspora Jews from communities around the world, including in Australia, Amsterdam, Spain and the United States, call on Israeli voters to “Please ask Israeli politicians what they will do to connect Israel with Jews from all over the world.” The video is subtitled and the question is repeated in Hebrew for said politicians.
The video includes the hashtag #VoteDiaspora.
It came out ahead of two incidents in Israel that highlight the disconnect between Israeli and Diaspora Jews: Violence at the Western Wall on Friday during a morning Rosh Chodesh prayer service that marked 30 years of such services by Women of the Wall, and the cancellation by Culture Minister Miri Regev of the lighting of a torch reserved for a representative of Diaspora Jewry during the ceremony on the eve of Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.
Gesher is a 40-year-old NGO that has worked to bridge the gap between various segments of Israeli society. And in recent years it has also attempted to give Israeli opinion leaders an in-depth introduction to Diaspora Jewry.
Israeli journalist Tzvika Klein is an alumnus of a Gesher leadership program. Klein, who made aliyah from Chicago with his family as a child, was a natural fit for the program since he is the Jewish World reporter for the Hebrew-language Makor Rishon newspaper, spending his professional life reporting about Diaspora Jewry.
“It’s not ever going to be a subject that drives the elections, but we’re trying to make it something,” he said of Diaspora Jewry issues, saying the campaign “creates public discussion.”
Klein says the 280 alumni of the Gesher programs that teach Israeli opinion leaders to appreciate Diaspora Jewry and take them for weeklong visits to those communities in the United States and the United Kingdom have embraced the #VoteDiaspora campaign, including sharing it on social media.
The political parties running in the upcoming elections have agreed to send representatives to a Gesher event next week that will see reporters, all alumni of the Diaspora programs, interview them about their stances on Diaspora Jewry. The heads of two of the parties – Rafi Peretz of Jewish Home and Tamar Zandberg of Meretz, will be among the representatives.
“The State of Israel is the state of the entire Jewish people, and this calls for us to think also about the issue of Diaspora Jewry,” Ilan Geal-Dor, CEO of Gesher, said in a statement. “Without this help from Jews outside of Israel, we may not have survived. Without connections and partnerships, we have too much to lose.”