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  • Moshe Sharett, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Jewish Diaspora1
  • Gabriel Sheffer (bio)

Many observers agree about the marginal position and involvement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) as well as all other ministries active in the sphere of Israeli–Jewish Diaspora relations, which is closely connected to Israeli governments’ general positions and attitudes toward the Jewish Diaspora. The article examines the historical sources of this situation in the Israeli government. It discusses especially the role of the MFA, which, theoretically, should have been very closely involved in Israeli–Jewish Diaspora relations. It focuses mainly on the period from 1948 until the mid-1950s. For this was of course the formative period during which the government and all its ministries were formally established and organized; when the initial government position toward the Jewish Diaspora was formulated; when the relations between the government and the Jewish Agency, which during the Yishuv was the semi-government, were set; and when the ideological and strategic debates were intensifying between the first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and the first minister of foreign affairs, Moshe Sharett, and his ministry, which was under the full control of Sharett during a period when the relations between him and Ben-Gurion were gradually fading.

In June 2005, “twenty highly respectful but worried American Jews” met behind closed doors to discuss the then present and future situation of the entire Jewish nation.2 Those troubled Jewish dignitaries discussed two scenarios about the future of the Jewish People. The first scenario was termed a “realistic nightmare”. Its main points were that until the year 2025 the Jewish nation would encounter difficulties that [End Page 27] would threaten its perseverance. These difficulties would include a world wide major decline in the number of Jews; a growing rate of assimilation; a major decline in the Jewish Diaspora’s power and resources; and a great deterioration in the interest that Israel would show in the Diaspora and in Israeli–Diaspora relations. The second scenario was termed a “realistic [or rather an optimistic] outlook”. Its main points were that the number of Jews would not decline; the Diaspora would prosper; Israel would be the center of the Jewish Nation; the Diaspora’s connection with Israel would be maintained and even strengthened; and the Jewish nation would be a top actor in world culture.

It seems now that only to a certain extent the first scenario—the “realistic nightmare”—is gradually materializing. There is no doubt that the Diaspora and Israel are experiencing disturbing demographic, cultural, social, political, and even economic developments. There are some observers who argue that World Jewry and Israel are experiencing significant unfavorable existential changes.3 Therefore, there is no wonder that an ongoing debate is occurring concerning the fundamental question—What are the causes of this forlorn transformation? Some observers accurately attribute these changes to general global and transnational processes that contribute to the marked diminishing ethno-national and national factors, including in the Jewish Nation and in Israel. However, recent studies and surveys show that a lot depends on internal processes inside the Diaspora, on the one hand, and in Israel, on the other hand.

Regarding the processes among the Jewish Israelis, it turns out that more and more Israelis are actually less interested in what is happening in the general Diaspora (Israelis with relatives in hostlands with Jewish and Israeli Diasporic entities will show some greater interest not only in their relatives but also with the diasporas in general). Apparently, the lack of public interest, the skepticism about the Diaspora’s future, and a certain degree of hostility toward the Diaspora, have significant impacts on the attitudes of Israeli non-governmental organizations, and the Israeli government’s attitudes, contacts, and activities directed at the Diaspora.4

Among other ministries, such as Finance, Immigrant Absorption, Religious Affairs, and Education, Culture and Sports, which are involved in Israeli–Diaspora relations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is hypothetically supposed to perform an essential role in developing and maintaining close relations between Israel and the Diaspora. Yet, as MFA officials and observers of its activities admit, the position and tasks of the MFA as well as all...


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