Israel has betrayed a large segment of the Jewish people, Ephraim Halevy a former Mossad chief and a past head of the National Security Council said on Monday at a session of the World Jewish Congress at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
Halevy, who was closely involved in bringing Soviet and Ethiopian Jews to Israel, spoke at a breakfast session titled “Israel-Diaspora relations 70 years-on,” hosted by the WJC and its subsidiary, the Israel Council on Foreign Relations (ICFR).
“Israel betrayed them by taking strict rules of conversion, which had not been used when Ezra and Nehemiah came back from Babylon with children whose mothers were not Jewish,” he said.
No one asked the people who came from Auschwitz and Majdanek for documents that proved their Jewishness, Halevy said. “Hitler was sufficient proof that they were Jews.”
Referring to Russian immigrants and others – many of whom have served in the army, some losing their lives in the process – he said the government and the Knesset cannot turn their backs on such people on the basis of Jewish identity.
Jerusalem-born ICFR president Dan Meridor, a former cabinet secretary and government minister, declared that the issue was not a discussion between Jewish communities. Although there are Jews in Israel he said, “Israel is not a Jewish community, it is a state.”
He then asked the question that begged itself: “So what is the role of Jews in the Diaspora?”
Supplying his own answer, Meridor, a former finance minister, compared the situation to a company in which the executive board makes all the decisions and Jews in the Diaspora have the option to buy shares.
He recalled that when the first trickle of Jews came out of Soviet Russia, America offered to grant them citizenship as stateless people. This greatly annoyed Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Along with Meridor, Shamir traveled to the United States to speak to then-secretary of state George Schultz about abrogating such legislation. Ever since the establishment of the State of Israel, Shamir insisted, there was no such thing as a stateless Jew. If Jews later wanted to go to other countries, that was their prerogative, but they had to so via Israel first, Shamir told Schultz, who understood and agreed. One result of that meeting was that many Soviet Jews who might have otherwise chosen to go elsewhere, came to Israel and stayed.