Broadening the picture - beyond America: Other Models

by Steve Israel

We have addressed the situation among the Jews of the West. While we have been talking of the West as a whole, the truth is that the dominant model has clearly been that of the United States.

The reason for this is that the United States is by far the dominant Diaspora community, as the statistics will make clear. (The population figures in the following section are drawn from the book "Jewish Communities of the World" published by the World Jewish Congress in 1998).

In the mid to late 1990's, out of a total Diaspora Jewish population of approximately eight and a half million, almost six million of these are resident in the United States. The second largest diaspora entity is believed to be France with some 600,000 Jews, slightly ahead of Russia with 550,000, the Ukraine with 400,000, Canada with 360,000, the United Kingdom with 300,000 and Argentina with 250,000. Brazil, South Africa and Australia are all hovering around the 100,000 mark and, beyond that, all diaspora communities have less than 100,000 Jews. Even if the lands of the former Soviet Union are combined, the total number is only a little over a million.

The implication is clearly that the largest and most dominant diaspora community by far is the United States, so much so that some of the leaders of that community have opposed the idea that they should be termed a diaspora community and have insisted on seeing themselves as a centre, together with Israel, of contemporary Jewish life. As a result, our analysis of the relationship between Israel and diaspora has clearly been skewed in favour of the U.S.

While understandable, this emphasis can also be termed misleading. While no other diaspora community has experienced the tensions and counter tensions outlined above in quite the same way as the North American community, Israel, of course, has impinged on and influenced the lives of communities in all parts of the globe.

Let us examine a few examples of different Jewish communities to see how those influences have played a part.

We shall first explore in detail the very complex relationship between the State of Israel and the community of Russian Jews. This case study will, we suggest, reveal fascinating dynamics about the relationship between Israel and the diaspora in a way that is unique.

Following this, more briefly, we will examine five other different communities, those of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Yemen and India. Each of these communities is unique and exhibits different dynamics and interactions with Zionism and Israel. Together, they provide a spectrum of communities that can help illuminate the connections between Israel and the Diaspora.





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30 May 2005 / 21 Iyar 5765 0