IJC Participates at Special Knesset Session Celebrating 120 Year Anniversary of First Zionist Congress
On 18th July, 2017, The Israeli-Jewish Congress (IJC) was honored to participate at a special Knesset session in celebration of the 120th Anniversary of the First Zionist Congress, the historic event held in Basel, where Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, first gave vision to the Jewish state.
The special event was held by the Knesset’s Diaspora Affairs, Immigration and Absorption Committee, together in partnership with the World Zionist Organization.
The theme of the discussion was ‘Strengthening the Zionist identity and the connection with the State of Israel in small Jewish communities in the Diaspora and activities to encourage aliyah – marking the 120th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress in Basel.’
IJC Executive Director Arsen Ostrovsky was honored to speak at this special session, which was also attended by Members of Knesset, Representatives from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Immigrant Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, as well as leadership of WZO and other major Jewish organization.
Below are the remarks of IJC’s Arsen Ostrovsky, as delivered before the Knesset.
Knesset Committee for Diaspora Affairs, Immigration & Absorption
18th July, 2017
Remarks by The Israeli-Jewish Congress (IJC) Executive Director Arsen Ostrovsky
‘Strengthening the Zionist identity and the connection with the State of Israel in small Jewish communities in the Diaspora and activities to encourage aliyah – marking the 120th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress in Basel’
Chairman Neguise. Members of Knesset. Distinguished guests.
On behalf of The Israeli-Jewish Congress, and as an oleh hadash myself, it is a great honor to speak today before the Knesset, the heart and soul of Israel’s democracy on the occasion of the 120th anniversary of the 1st Zionist Congress.
Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, whom we honor today, famously said in 1897, after conclusion of the Congress: “At Basel, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. If not in 5 years, certainly in 50, everyone will know it.”
Well, fifty-one years later, in 1948, Israel, the Jewish State, was established.
And if only Herzl would see, 120 years after his (now) prophetic words, we have a proud, strong, sovereign, Jewish and democratic state!
We need to remember, ours is a compelling story.
It is a story of hope, courage and freedom.
A people, after 3,000 years, scattered, exiled, subjected to persecution, pogroms and, ultimately, the Holocaust, returning to our ancestral homeland … Israel.
Irrespective of whether we are Jews in Israel, America, Europe or elsewhere, Zionism is the glue that bonds us together, in the underlying belief of the our inalienable right to self-determination in our ancient homeland.
In this regard, we are especially glad that one of the themes of the discussion today is strengthening the Zionist identity and the connection with the State of Israel in small Jewish communities, as well as activities to encourage Aliyah.
There must first be a realization that the Diaspora community exists beyond North America and some of the major Western European states.
There are also smaller Jewish communities in Central, Eastern & Northern Europe, who are yearning for help, to be heard and to be considered valued members of the global Jewish family.
If we want to encourage Aliyah amongst these communities, we must first seek ways to strengthen their Jewish and Zionist identity, for without that, not only will they lose their connection to Israel, but over generations, so too their Jewish identity.
So, we must double our effort in this regard.
But we must do so together, in partnership, between the State of Israel, Knesset and Jewish communities on the ground.
We must seek ways to empower these smaller communities.
To educate about Zionism and Jewish history, especially to the youth.
To help bring youth from these communities on programs to Israel, like Birthright and MASA, which compared to their North American brothers and sisters, make up only a small percentage.
To help make Jewish education more affordable and accessible. To help provide training and resources.
To show that Israel cares. Listen to them. Send Members of Knesset, shlihhim and delegations, to give them the opportunity to connect.
But most of all, we must engage in dialogue, not monologue.
Today, Zionism has been twisted into a dirty word, hijacked by our detractors and those seeking to willfully paint it as racist. As French President Macron said only two days ago, Anti-Zionism is “reinvented” Antisemitism.
Even some within the Jewish community are reticent about using the term.
We need to turn this around, reclaim Zionism for what it is: a beautiful, powerful, aspirational, movement, connecting millions of people around the world in support of the one and only Jewish State.
Theodor Herzl, the visionary who we are celebrating today, said also “It is true that we aspire to our ancient land. But what we want in that land is a new blossoming of the Jewish spirit.”
Let us use this historic opportunity, here at the Knesset today, the heart and soul of Israel’s democracy, to reaffirm our Jewish spirit and act as a bridge to all the Jewish people.