June 13, 2018 — Jerusalem, Israel
Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett spoke at the 2018 AJC Global Forum last night.
During a conversation with Kim Pimley, an AJC officer, he expressed concern over growing gaps between Israeli and American Jews and, more broadly, the future of diaspora Jewry in general.
"If there is one thing that keeps me up at night, it's not Iran, it's the future of the Jewish people in the diaspora," said Bennett. "If we don't act soon, we're going to be losing millions of Jews to assimilation."
A new AJC poll, released Sunday on the first day of the AJC Global Forum, showed growing gaps between the views of American Jews and Israeli Jews on a number of key issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, President Trump and the moving of the American embassy to Jerusalem, full recognition of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, and egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.
Asked about these gaps, the minister said: "I think this is one of the greatest challenges of our generation. It's got to be at the top of our list. There's an Atlantic-Jewish chasm growing between Israelis and Jews in the United States. The AJC poll reflects that the Israeli population is gradually going more rightward and becoming more traditionally Jewish, whereas American Judaism is more left and liberal. That's a fact. I don't know how to whitewash that, but it should not be a reason to fall apart."
He compared these arguments to a family sitting down at a Passover Seder table and squabbling, but they still remain a family.
Despite these differences, Bennett said he was less afraid of Jews with whom he might disagree than of those who were too apathetic and alienated from Judaism. "If you argue with us, it means you care," he asserted.
For decades, AJC has been a leading voice seeking to strengthen ties between Israeli and American Jews. Most recently, AJC established the Jewish Religious Equality Commission (J-REC) to advocate for greater religious pluralism, a key factor affecting the ties between the world's two largest Jewish communities.
The AJC Global Forum is the signature annual event of AJC, the premier Jewish global advocacy organization. More than 2,400 participants, including hundreds of young Jews, from across the United States and 55 other countries are registered for the four-day conference in Jerusalem. It is the first time in the organization's 112-year history that the AJC Global Forum is taking place outside the United States.