This man says there’s a crisis between Israel and Jews — but he’s causing it

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks to members of the media at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem on Nov 19. (photo: Amir Cohen / Reuters)
Naftali Bennett isn’t the man to explain the crisis in Israel-diaspora relations, or to solve it. He’s the walking, loudly talking embodiment of why it’s happening.

By Gershom Gorenberg | The Washington Post | Dec 13, 2018

Older American Jews, especially from establishment Jewish organizations, have quarreled for years with the Israeli government over religious pluralism. What upsets younger Jews is Israel’s political direction. It’s the occupation, and how the occupation has changed Israel.

Naftali Bennett wears several hats in Israeli politics. He’s the head of the religious nationalist Jewish Home party. He’s the education minister. He also holds the obscure post of minister of diaspora affairs, which means he’s in charge of fostering ties between Israel and Jews around the world. At this week’s cabinet meeting, he decided to remind everyone of that role, with some pithy comments.

“Israel-Diaspora relations are in an unprecedented crisis,” Bennett said. He dismissed the idea that the disconnect is due to “the Palestinian issue” or because of a conflict over the rights of non-Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Rather, he said, it’s because “there’s a dire assimilation crisis and growing apathy among Jews in the Diaspora toward their Judaism and toward Israel. That’s the whole story.” In those few sentences, the man managed to show how thoroughly disconnected he is from the people with whom he’s supposed to work.

Bennett is right about this much: The conversation between Israel and diaspora Jews — especially American Jews, and especially younger ones — sounds more and more like one of those family gatherings that makes you wish you had the flu so you didn’t have to show up.

But Bennett is either fooling himself or trying to fool the rest of Israel about the reasons for the rift with the diaspora.

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