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Metro&Beyond: Naftali Bennett, “Minister of the Jews”

Jacob Kornbluh

Naftali Bennett promises to spend big on the Diaspora to ensure a Jewish future

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

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I sraelis are in good hands, says Israel’s Minister of Education Naftali Bennett. The country’s defense posture and its strong economy make Israelis feel protected and prosperous.

What keeps him up at night, he says, is the future of Diaspora Jewry. That was the message Bennett, who also serves as Israel’s minister of Diaspora affairs, delivered to the American Jewish community on a five-day visit to Washington, D.C., and New York last week.

“I am essentially minister of the Jews. I am your minister,” Bennett explained in a special briefing with several Jewish media outlets, including Mishpacha, at the Israeli consulate in Midtown Manhattan. “There are almost 6 million Jews in the United States of America and we are losing a lot of them, and if for 70 years Israel was the project of the Jewish world, I think now the Jewish world is the project of Israel.”

Bennet said all involved will have to be “super creative” about how to address the problem of American Jewish affiliation. “I don’t know how to do this,” admitted Bennett, who also spoke at last week’s AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. “I’m not an American Jew, I’m an Israeli Jew. Americans should know better.”

Bennett, who said recently that he will seek the prime minister’s job once Binyamin Netanyahu leaves the scene, said that he would assign significant resources to the Israeli-Diaspora partnership were he to lead the government. “I view this as almost the number one project,” Bennett said.

He understands that not all Israelis grasp why the Israel-Diaspora relationship is so important. “A lot of Israelis ask me, ‘Why? Who cares? Why should we spend the Israeli taxpayers’ money on a girl in Minnesota, instead of a girl in Ofakim or Beersheba?’ ” Bennett said. “I have two answers. The first answer is a word in Hebrew: ‘kacha — just because.’ That’s a fundamental tenet of Netzach Yisrael, the eternity of the Jews. It doesn’t mean you have to take care of Israelis. It says we have to take care of the future of Jews.

“There’s a second reason, which is that if we want to benefit from the strategic value of Jews in America, we need to invest in it. But that’s a far second.”

During the briefing, which was freewheeling and partly off-the-record, Bennett said he felt confident that he could appeal to American Jews as prime minister, even though many might take issue with his policies. “We’re not going to convince each other in many cases,” he explained. “Sometimes we should argue. Sometimes we should put aside the argument. But all in all, remember that we’re brothers and sisters, and that’s my deepest genuine feeling toward every Jew.”

(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 702)

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