Jewish Agency row proves interests of Jews and Israel don't always overlap

Opinion: Crisis over closure of the agency, which helps Jews make Aliyah, in Moscow has brought up fears that Israel's actions to safeguard its interests can harm Diaspora Jewry, similarly to Hezbollah attacks in Argentina in 1994

Yedidia Stern|
The extent of the row between Israel and Russia following the announcement of the upcoming closure of the Jewish Agency in the country is unclear.
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  • Moscow claims the agency violated a local law and the reasons for the apparent closure are legislative. But, the move could be political, and the issue could just be an excuse to punish Israel for its support of Ukraine, the alleged Israeli strikes in Syria, or even to push Israelis to transfer ownership of the Alexander Nevsky Church, in the Old City of Jerusalem, to the Russians.
    2 View gallery
    הסוכנות היהודית במוסקבה
    הסוכנות היהודית במוסקבה
    The Jewish Agency in Moscow
    (Photo: AP)
    The whole issue is a wake-up call for proper consideration of the balance between national and Jewish interests.
    In this context, assuming an aggressive stance by Jerusalem would save the Jewish Agency in Moscow, is it really worth going on this path? Israel may pay a heavy price, and the Russian retaliation would be in the form of selling advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, which will erode the superiority in the region and will make it hard to thwart Iranian proxy expansion.
    One example of such a scenario was In a discussion held at the Jewish People Policy Institute about the assassination of a Hezbollah secretary-general 30 years ago.
    In response to the elimination, the terror organization carried out attacks on Jews and Israeli targets in Argentina and killing 111 people. Head of the then-Military Intelligence Directorate Major General Ori Sagi, admitted that if he was aware of the possible retaliation against Jews in the Diaspora, he would have reconsidered the operation.
    Shifting from the military context to the political: Should a prime minister consider the Jews in the Diaspora on matters of religion and state when he sets a policy, even if he is required to pay a political price? And in the economic context: Is the State of Israel even allowed to use taxpayer money to support Jewish interests outside Israel or aspects of Jewish education in the Diaspora?
    These are different examples, of course, but they all raise the same question: What is the extent of Israel's responsibility to non-Jewish citizens? Most of us support solidarity towards the Diaspora Jewry. But what price are willing to pay for it, and on what scale?
    The fundamental law says Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and it imposes a constitutional obligation on the state to focus on ensuring the safety of Jewish people in trouble and to act to preserve the Jewish heritage among the Diaspora Jewry. The law, however, doesn't require Israel to go head-on against Putin.
    Beyond the formal obligation of the law, Israel must consider the extent of its willingness to implement the role of a nation-state by weighing the pan-Jewish interest compared to the internal Israeli national interests.
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    עולים אוקראינים יורדים מ ה מטוס  בנמל התעופה נתבג בן גוריון עליה יהדות ה תפוצות משבר מלחמה אוקראינה רוסיה
    עולים אוקראינים יורדים מ ה מטוס  בנמל התעופה נתבג בן גוריון עליה יהדות ה תפוצות משבר מלחמה אוקראינה רוסיה
    Ukrainian Jews arrive in Israel after being rescued from the war
    (Photo: AP)
    This question is not simple at all. The current sovereign form of Israel is the most significant one in the past 2000 years. Sovereignty distinguishes between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens and others even if they are Jewish.
    Therefore, seemingly a "normal state" would prefer the civil interest. But Israel is not just a democratic state, it is also Jewish. As such, it must take into account those who are part of the Jewish identity, although they are not part of the civil circle, even if there is a price for such significant consideration.
    In the long run, translating the vision and statement of being a "Jewish state" into an array of actions - such as the hand that is reached out to the Jews of Ukraine and Russia - is the realization of our existence. Indeed, the Jewish interest, at the end of the day, is in Israeli interest.
    Yedidia Stern is the president of the Jewish People Policy Institute and a professor of law at Bar-Ilan University.
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