Letter to the reader
“Why is this diplomat different from all other diplomats?”
Deep down, every Israeli diplomat suspects that his or her role is different, in some fundamental way, from that of a diplomat representing, say, Sweden or Portugal. And indeed, defending Israel against international criticism, or battling hostile campaigns within international organisations, can often seem like a uniquely Israeli challenge. But there is another area in which Israeli diplomacy tends to differ, and that is the special relationship between representatives of the State of Israel and Jewish communities in the Diaspora.
This relationship is often warm and strong, but it can also be sensitive and complex. Differences of opinion about Israeli policies, and about the place of Israel in the Jewish world, are just two of the potential fault lines along which divisions and frictions can and do develop.
Part of the task of the Israeli diplomat is to foster and deepen the dialogue with the Jewish community in the country where he or she serves. Not only can Jewish communities abroad play an important role in advocating and advancing Israel’s positions in their country, but Israel has always seen a connection with and a responsibility towards world Jewry as being a key part of its national identity.
But while maintaining this dialogue is important, the experiences of Israelis and of Jews in the Diaspora are very different. For this reason, it is important to seek out and develop those aspects of our common heritage and experience that can serve as common ground.
One area of common ground is the Bible, which remains at the heart of the identity of Israelis and Jews the world over. The cycle of the Jewish year is punctuated by the Bible. Each week, Jewish communities in synagogues around the world read a section of the five books of Moses, so that over the course of a year the entire Pentateuch is read, and then started over again. These sections of the Bible or “parshiot” give the Jewish year its tone and rhythm. Indeed, until recent times, rather than dating their letters, Jewish scholars would often simply include a verse from the week’s “parasha”, which would indicate in what week it had been written.
Parasha Diplomatit is an unusual experiment in Biblical diplomacy, seeking to draw insights from the week’s parasha and relate them to an issue of concern to Israeli society and world Jewry. Each week the insight from the weekly portion is accompanied by a quotation from an Israeli leader or diplomat and – recognizing the warm force of Jewish humor – a joke or anecdote on a related theme. The project was coined Parasha Diplomatit, a phrase usually meaning ‘diplomatic incident’, but here suggesting a diplomatic take on the week’s Torah reading.
Note on the weekly parasha cycle
The division of the five books of Moses into 54 parshiot dates back to the Jews of ancient Babylon and provides the basis for the weekly reading read by Jewish communities throughout the world. There are, however, times when the readings in Israel and in the Diaspora are different. Outside of Israel, the festivals of Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot are celebrated one day longer than they are inside Israel. When this extra day occurs on Shabbat, in Israel the regular weekly Torah portion is read, while the festival portion is read everywhere else. For several weeks after this happens, Israel and the Diaspora are ‘out of sync’. Within a few weeks, though, communities outside of Israel read a double Torah portion, while those in Israel read a single portion. In this way, those in the Diaspora catch up to the portion read in Israel.