Naftali-Bennett

Naftali Bennet

A multi-million pound programme to improve relations between Israel and Diaspora Jewry was signed off on Sunday, before being placed in the hands of an Israeli minister vehemently opposed to settlement freezes or peace with the Palestinians.

Naftali Bennett, a former settler leader who now heads the nationalist Jewish Home party, will spend the $168 million budget because his cabinet role includes the Ministry of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, under whose auspices the initiative will run.

However, observers have voiced quiet concern that his dogmatic stance on settlement-building in the West Bank, together with his absolute opposition to a two-state solution, risks alienating the very people the project seeks to engage.

Intended to strengthen the connection between Israel and world Jewry, and to strengthen the Jewish identity of young Diaspora Jews, the initiative will involve input from the Jewish Agency and the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office.

“Israel needs a strong Jewish world and the Jewish world needs a strong Israel,” said Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, after the Israeli cabinet approved plans on Sunday. 

“This is the strongest expression of the centrality of Jewish identity as the cornerstone of Israel-Diaspora relations,” he said.