‘And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always. In the tabernacle of the congregation without the vail which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall order it from evening to morning before the Lord: it shall be a statute forever unto their generations on the behalf of the children of Israel.’

Exodus 27:20-21.

The ner tamid – the eternal flame in our lives, the solitary light illuminated in the Temple in Jerusalem – symbolizes the spiritual journey of the children of Israel, kept alive through the long, twisted road of Jewish history. I fear the flame is in danger of being extinguished. Today, at the height of Jewish stability and strength, when half our people are living in Israel, and the other half living in accepting environments, the ner tamid is in serious danger. Look below the surface, and cracks are threatening our Jewish world. The brightness of the ner tamid is inextricably tied to Jewish unity, but the partnership between Israel and the Jewish world is in danger. The State of Israel was built on the assumption it was to be a collective home for the Jewish People, not just in Israel but also for those in the Diaspora. But Israel and the Jewish world have undergone significant changes challenging that partnership (most recently, the Gaza war in summer).

Over the last few months, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has tried to decrease the gap, repeatedly declaring that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people. But do Jewish people in the Diaspora identify Israel’s polices?

The Jewish People’s greatest startup success story is in danger of losing its way (some might argue it already has). Israel is facing enormous challenges across the board, challenges that are testing Jewish heritage and values. Every third Israeli baby is born into poverty. Every fifth pensioner in Israel dies in poverty. Religious life is monopolized by the Orthodox, affecting marriage, divorce and conversion, and hindering the recognition of Reform and Conservative streams in Israel. As hope for peace fades, so too does the possibility of a twostate solution, and that presents a massive challenge. Israel is facing an eruption of violence between Jewish and Arab citizens, underlined in part by an acute sense of inequality between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority. For thousands of years, the Jews have been strangers in other nations’ lands. Now that the tables are turned, how will we react?

The task we now face is how to keep Israel safe, thriving and free in a way that the vast majority of Jews in the Diaspora can identify with. It is time to put the issue of an ongoing Jewish–Israeli partnership firmly on the agenda. This partnership – symbolized by the ner tamid – is essential to Israel’s future as the nation state of the Jewish people, and requires the combined efforts of the government of Israel, relevant decision-makers in the Diaspora and every single Jew in between. Time is of the essence. The issue must be broached wherever and whenever the Jewish family meets – around the Shabbat dinner table, at the JCCs, in temple, the federations, Jewish organizations, Hillel, youth movements, NGOs, the public arena, the media, blogs. In Canada and around the Jewish world.

We have to raise the temperature of debate. And with that in mind, the Reut Institute intends to appoint a special team to analyze the complexity of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people and examine how Israel might best represent central Jewish values. Our goal is to generate a series of recommendations to strengthen the link between Israel and the Jewish world. Our findings will be presented to the government of Israel and decision makers in the Diaspora.

In the meantime, the latest surveys of North American Jewry depict a general disengagement from organized Judaism as well as a lack of interest and identification with the State of Israel for many young Jews. We are faced head on with the question: Is our 3,000-year-old ner tamid withering?

The decision of  several European companies to divest from Israeli companies or blacklist Israeli financial institutions has been celebrated by prominent leaders of the BDS Movement – an umbrella organization, which strives to isolate Israel thorough boycotts, divestments and sanctions. They have been conducting a media blitz arguing that this ne development indicates their increasing global impact. However, the European hardline shouldn’t be seen as the evolution of the “classic” BDS campaign, but in fact, paradoxically, quite the opposite.

The current wave of European pressure on Israel and the call to boycott products and services linked to the settlements – such as the Dutch PGGM pension fund and Vitens Water Company – represents a genuine loss of trust regarding the commitment of the current Israeli government to build peace. In its majority, these boycotts are perceived in the world as a well-intentioned, legitimate, non-violent protest against Israeli policies aimed at “saving” Israel from itself. While it may be argued, as I do, that this approach offers only a simplistic zero-sum mentality, Israel must acknowledge that boycotting products made in the settlements is advocated largely by supporters of the two-state solution.

Indeed, until recently many leaders of the BDS Movement explicitly refrain from supporting a boycott settlement, in fear for legitimizing the State of Israel within a paradigm of Two Nations State. Yet the evident ineffective “total” BDS campaign forced many of them to compromise in calling for “only” a partial boycott. In their eyes, a targeted boycott still constitutes as an “act of delegitimization,” as it sill tarnishes Israel’s reputation. A prominent leaders of the BDS campaign openly stated recently that the BDS’s tactics in boycotting settlement products is “the easiest way to rally support”— a milestone on the path towards a comprehensive boycott.

On the band-wagon of growing criticism over Israeli policies, the BDS leaders operate to generate the false association between Israel and apartheid. They thus label people who worry about Anti-Semitism as being agents of Israel’s lobby, and multinational corporations who are doing business with Israel as apartheid profiteers. They publicly denounce the Two Nation States Solution and reject the current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. No wonder then, that the president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas publicly denounced the BDS Movement few weeks ago.

The paradox that exists in the current boycotting pressures on Israel is that BDS leaders openly express their goal to undermine the moral foundations that encompasses the paradigm of Two Nation States, while the growing European pressure largely reflects an attempt to secure it.

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What the Berlin experience did to me

Berlin is not just another city , its buildings, its music, art, and its human mosaic that showcases so many different and opposite sides of the human condition, jolted my thoughts and feelings about who I am: my Judaism, my Zionism, the personal choices I’ve made in my life, my family, my work, my values. Its history tells a story of literally living at a crossroads. For one hundred years, Berlin was the very center of the power struggle in geo-politics, the fight for freedom, the horrors that mankind is capable of, the  inner powers that are in all of us to choose between right or wrong, the decadence that exists in the city and the hopes of the people. In short, the Berlin experience of living at the very edge of history for the last century, sharpened my senses and forced me to reflect  on my  responsibility to the choices I’ve made  and will take on the winding road of life.

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In the last few years civil society in Israel has been developing at a rapid rate. This phenomenon really burst into the national conscience of Israel in the summer of 2011 in the form of wide spread social demonstrations (600,000 people took to the streets – over 7% of the population!).  Young people want to influence the lives they lead and the country they live in. Continue Reading »


There is a growing movement that is gathering momentum. Increasingly, recognition of the major opportunities at the intersection between needs in developing countries and Israeli innovation is energizing action to wake Israeli entrepreneurship up to this reality.

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Much has been written about the State Comptroller’s report on the failure of the City of Lod’s rehabilitation program: the municipality didn’t use the whole budget, the government didn’t supervise correctly, the development programs were not appropriate for Lod’s unique circumstances etc. One key element was missing and continues to be missing from the government discourse: a clear vision for the city of Lod; a vision that includes a thriving urban life and goes beyond a list of generic development programs that were put together into a “government program”. Continue Reading »


A few nights ago, in the heart of white Jerusalem where snow had been falling for over thirty six hours, I made my way gingerly by foot down the slippery slope to Jerusalem’s Cinematheque to see the Israeli documentary, The Gatekeepers, which has been nominated for an Oscar. A couple of hundred other Jerusalemites had also braved the winter elements to watch the film. For a full ninety five minutes, you could have heard a pin drop in the theatre. When the film ended, there were audible sounds of astonishment once the audience began to digest what they had just seen. The film was made by Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh and tells the dramatic history of Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians and its involvement in the territories after the 6 day war. The stars of the film are six Heads of the Shin Bet – Israel’s renowned internal security service. As I watched, it became clear that what I was seeing on the screen was a very sophisticated mix of powerful Israeli-Palestinian conflict visuals intertwined with the subjective views of the 6 leaders of the Shin Bet.


As the film unfolded we moved from the height of joy felt at regaining Jewish historical sites from the bible, to the depth of tragedy during the Rabin assassination after which Carmi Gilon –  the then Shin Bet commander  who was responsible for the PM’s safety  –  immediately offered his resignation.

It was truly fascinating to digest the testimonials that came from such different personalities. Overall, the six different interpretations were in many ways similar. Each one of the leaders described in their own way finding a path in the dark because in forty five years, the leaders of the various Governments of Israel had never announced a strategic policy regarding the Palestinians and the territories. (Yitzchak Rabin Is a possible exception in the eyes of one of the leaders).

The six leaders talked about the moral dilemmas they faced at different points, for example, when deciding whether to drop a bomb to carry out a targeted killing in order to take out a terrorist threat – what happens to the immediate innocent human circles around the terrorist target? What order should they give the interrogators who are dealing with terrorists that are ‘ticking bombs’ and where the speed of getting information can be a matter of saving many lives? Is there a place for a moral compass in a war of attrition where the enemy is using horrific methods of war – Intifada one and two, blowing up busses, suicide attacks and more?

You could feel the weight of responsibility that each one of them still carries – the sadness of not being able to finish the conflict. They were each scarred by events which forced them to think about what their service in the field has done to their own basic identity and what kind of Israel they want to see. They were once central actors in an unfolding drama and today they live in a situation where there is still no clear answer to the question of what the State of Israel should do regarding the millions of Palestinians who live under its daily rule.

I recommend strongly that every Israeli and every Jew should see this film regardless of what their particular political views are. I guarantee that each one will have to rethink his or her world view regarding Israel and the Palestinian question.

As I left the cinema and made my way up the slippery slope, I found  myself smiling as I remembered an idea that I read a couple of weeks earlier, from an interesting perspective on the world we live in: ”Politicians and thinkers would be wise not to try and bend history as the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner a gardener does for his plants – it involves changing the role we imagine for ourselves , from architects of a system we can control and manage to gardeners in a living , shifting ecosystem”.  – The Age of the Unthinkable (Joshua Cooper Ramo).

Martin Ben Moreh & Michal Kabatznik , the Reut Institute, Israel.