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Israel International Relations: Israel and World Jewry

Since the first exile (586 BCE) and subsequent dispersions of Jews throughout the world, a unique and dynamic relationship has existed between Jews living in the Land of Israel and those residing outside it. Although separated by long distances over many centuries, the Jews have remained one nation, bound by a common history, religion and homeland as well as a collective commitment to the physical and spiritual survival of the Jewish people. The establishment of the State of Israel (1948) grew out of their 2,000-year-old dream to return to their ancestral homeland and revive its national life and sovereignty.

Recent estimates put the world Jewish population at about 13.3 million, 38 percent of whom live in Israel, and close to 50 percent in North and South America. Jews everywhere share a spectrum of history, ideals and interests, and are engaged in ongoing dialogue on a wide range of issues.

World Jewry, in recognition of the centrality of Israel in Jewish life, participates in building the country, through social, political and financial support, as well as by coming to Israel, making it their home and adding their particular skills and cultural backgrounds to the Israeli mosaic. A long tradition of mutual aid among Jews is manifested in a multifaceted network of organizations designed to cater to hundreds of Jewish-Israeli interests. For its part, Israel constantly seeks to strengthen the Jewish communities and its bond with them by helping those in need, promoting Israel-oriented activities, Hebrew language study, economic opportunities and visits of groups and individuals to Israel.

The World Zionist Organization (WZO) was founded at the First Zionist Congress (1897) with the aim of facilitating the return of the Jewish people to its ancient homeland, the Land of Israel, and reviving Jewish national life in the country. The WZO's primary objective was attained in 1948 with the establishment of a legally secured, internationally recognized Jewish state - the State of Israel. Since then the WZO has functioned as liaison to Diaspora Jewry, promoting activities which focus on the unity of the Jewish people and the centrality of Israel in Jewish life; facilitating immigration; fostering Jewish education in Jewish communities worldwide; and defending the rights of Jews wherever they live. The democratically-elected World Zionist Congress, the supreme body of the WZO, meets every 4-5 years in Jerusalem to legislate, determine financial policy and elect its executive committee.

Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) is today a primary organizational expression of the relationship between the State of Israel and world Jewry. It was constituted (1929) by the World Zionist Organization to represent the Jewish community in the Land of Israel vis-a-vis the British Mandate authorities, foreign governments and international organizations. After Israel attained independence, partial responsibility for certain national tasks were delegated by law to JAFI and the WZO, including immigration and absorption, rural settlement and immigrant housing, educational and youth activities, as well as urban renewal. In recent years, many of these functions have been assumed by the government.

Sources: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs