Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called on the Chabad movement to expand its indefatigable activities worldwide to include “bringing all the Jews from around the world here to Israel.”
Speaking at the Knesset during a Monday event honoring the emissaries of the hassidic movement stationed in the Former Soviet Union, the foreign minister noted the revolution the ubiquitous “shluchim” have brought to a part of the world where, until not too long ago, that kind of Jewish religious expression and activity was forbidden.
“The messiah must be on his way if there are so many delegates in the FSU,” he joked.
On a more serious note, Lieberman spoke of the “amazing things” Chabad does in bringing Jewish education to Jews abroad.
“There is nothing more important than Jewish education,” he stressed. “Without us existing as the Jewish state, there is no point in Israel’s existence. One can live in Moscow, New York or London – there are enough places in the world,” said the Moldova native. Only because of this I chose to live here: I want to live in a Jewish state.
“We existed till now since we knew how to safeguard our tradition,” Lieberman continued.
“Everyone has a different interpretation [of] exactly what that means, but regardless, whoever contributes to preserving tradition is doing an amazing thing. Our central problem as a Jewish people is the fact that 60-70 percent of Diaspora Jews have no connection to the Jewish tradition.
We must do everything we can to ensure that 100% of the Jewish people are exposed to our tradition.
“But an even greater goal,” Lieberman continued, “is to not only preserve the Jewish communities in the Diaspora, but bring them all to Israel.
This is more important than any foreign aid or diplomatic activity we engage in.
“If we succeed in bringing all the Jews here, we will be in an entirely different situation.
Being here ensures a bond with Jewish history and culture.
“I hope you join the second part of the Jewish undertaking to bring Jews to Israel. We want to see all the Jews here in Jerusalem,” he said.
The foreign minister’s remarks, delivered in the presence of other ministers, Knesset members, Chief Rabbi of Russia Berl Lazar, heavyweight Chabad donors Lev Leviev and Michael Mirilashvili, as well as more than 100 emissaries, were especially interesting taking into account the traditionally non-Zionist element of the Chabad movement.
Ahead of the event, NGO Hiddush: For Religious Freedom and Equality distributed to all Knesset members a letter “exposing the statements of senior Chabad leaders against the State of Israel and Zionism.”
Hiddush head Rabbi Uri Regev said that “any Zionist MK with national dignity should keep away from saluting this anti-Zionist hassidut.”
A spokesman for Chabad, Rabbi Menahem Brod, rejected the Hiddush narrative.
While not denying the statements quoted in the document by Chabad leaders such as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, he put them in their historical context.
“This is an attempt to carry out a battle that belongs to 60 years ago,” he said. “All of these discussions are worthless.
Today, we do not deal with the question of being in favor of the Zionist movement, or against it.
“The State of Israel is an established fact. Chabad is part of the state’s institutions, including the religious educational system. Chabad men serve in the IDF, and take part in all of Israel’s mechanisms.
“There are issues that pertain to the secular nature of the state in which Chabad has a different outlook, and that is only natural,” said Brod.
“The absurd here,” said Brod of Regev, “is that the body attacking Chabad on the Zionist angle is the Reform movement – the same body that in the past erased from its prayer books any mention of Zion or Jerusalem.”
To Brod, the fact that prominent Chabad rabbis had, at the most recent Independence Day ceremony, attempted to prevent one of their hassidim, Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg, from lighting a torch in honor of the State of Israel, could not be evidenced as the movement’s anti-Zionist nature. Rosenberg’s daughter Rivki and her husband, Rabbi Gavriel Holzberg, were the emissaries murdered in the 2008 Mumbai attack.
The Chabad rabbinic leadership, at the last moment, instructed Rosenberg to light the torch, and Rosenberg changed the wording of the salutational text he recited, dedicating his act “to the state of the Land of Israel” rather than to the modern secular State of Israel.
“There was a discussion here around it, there were different opinions on the subject,” Brod said.
Head of the Knesset’s Aliya Committee Danny Danon (Likud), who organized the event, saw no problem with the Israeli parliament honoring the movement.
“Chabad has for many years done very much for the State of Israel and its citizens, and in light of our appreciation and gratitude to it, the Knesset decided to hold this salutational event,” he said.