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Netanyahu Calls For "Massive Aliya" From America As Jewish Federations Meet In Israel

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
November-December 1998

At a convention of North American Jews in Jerusalem in November, which was scheduled to mark Israel’s jubilee and was touted as heralding a new era in Israeli-Diaspora relations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for "mass aliya" to Israel.  

This was the first time the General Assembly, an annual gathering of North American Jews traditionally run by the Council of Jewish Federations, was held in Israel.  

According to The Forward (Nov. 20, 1998), Netanyahu cited assimilation, intermarriage and the decline of Jewish identity in the Diaspora as the "greatest threat" facing world Jewry. The solution, he suggested, is "massive aliya from every country in the Diaspora, including the United States, including Canada."  

According to The Forward, "Even the president of the Council of Jewish Federations, Dr. Conrad Giles, acknowledged the inaccuracy of the ‘many people, many roads, one heart’ slogan, saying, ‘I believe that what we have seen in Jerusalem indicates that this road is somewhat more bumpy than anyone would like to believe.’"  

One feud erupted at a panel of the World Conference of Jewish Communal Service in which the president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, Barry Shrage, called for American Jews to reorganize themselves around the synagogue. He said: "Synagogues and congregations are the most widespread form of grassroots communal organizations available to American Jews...Indeed no significant progress can be made in the work of the Jewish Renaissance without the full trust and cooperation of congregations and congregational movements."  

The head of the Jewish Agency, Avram Burg, countered that the synagogue is the "symbol of destruction," and that the new center of Jewish life should be the State of Israel. Mr. Shrage’s attempt to argue otherwise, Mr. Burg said, indicates that there is "no difference between him and anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodoxy."  

The Forward reports that, "At the same gala gathering where he made his aliya speech, Mr. Netanyahu received less applause than Shimon Peres, who was in the audience but did not speak."  

In a study released in conjunction with the General Assembly, Steven N. Cohen and Gerard Bubus note a "distancing" in relations between American Jews and Israel, which is reflected in Americans’ increased desire to spend their money at home."

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