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Wednesday, 22 April, 1998, 17:56 GMT 18:56 UK
The Jewish Diaspora and Israel
US Jews fundraisng
Raising money for Israel - but for how much longer?
Israel's 50th birthday will be celebrated not just by Israelis, but by Jewish communities all over the world. It might seem extraordinary to Zionism's founding fathers that even today, many more Jews choose to live outside Israel than in the Jewish State.

In very rough terms Israel accounts for about one third of the world Jewish population. Rather more Jews live in the United States than in Israel.

The figures are difficult to compare but it is estimated that there are 13 million Jews world wide; six million of them live in the United States, and only 4.6 million in Israel.

The idea of Zionism as "the ingathering of the exiles" appears to have run its course.

Immigrants from Buchara, 1944
Once Israel was the destination for Jews from around the world
There have been great waves of immigration: the pioneers of the 1930's and 1940's; North African Jews during the 1950's; Russian Jews during the 1980's.

But in the more settled developed world, the United States say, or western Europe, the Jewish communities appear content in their adopted countries.

Nonetheless Israel still exerts a powerful emotional hold on many Jewish people. The Jewish diaspora has provided considerable financial help to the Jewish state and - especially in the case of the Jewish community in the United States - some powerful political muscle as well.

But this complex relationship between Israel and the Jewish diaspora is changing. Israel is today more secure and more self-confident. The Jewish communities abroad are now increasingly concerned about their own problems: intermarriage; the survival of a Jewish cultural and religious identity and so on.

Their home is North America, not Israel
And Jews in the diaspora show increasing signs of a willingness to criticise Israel. This is especially true in the United States where the arrival of the Netanyahu Government has provoked significant differences within the US Jewish community.

The Israeli Government's willingness to acept legislation that would underscore the primacy of orthodox Judaism in Israel - and which by definition would brand the dominant currents in the United States as in some sense illegitimate - is also provoking strains between Israel and the most influential Jewish community abroad.

In a crisis, Israel can still count on one of the best-organised and motivated supporters clubs in the United States. But as the generations change, so there is a danger that Israel and the diaspora will slowly drift apart - something that would have profound consequences for both.

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