A conversation with Isi Leibler

May 12, 2016 by Michael Kuttner
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On 7 June, Bar Ilan University will confer a well-deserved Doctorate Honoris Causa on former Melbournian Isi Leibler in recognition of his many years of service to the Jewish People and the State of Israel. 

Isi Leibler at home in Jerusalem

Isi Leibler at home in Jerusalem

In anticipation of this event, J-Wire interviewed him at his Jerusalem home. The subjects traversed past, present and future challenges as seen by someone who has been in the forefront of momentous events from the early 1960’s up until the present day.

His diagnoses and prognoses of the ailments afflicting the Jewish and general world today provide us with an unparalleled opportunity to learn and act.

JW: You are one of a select few Jewish Diaspora leaders who decided to make aliyah. What made you take this step?

IL: I was brought up in a passionate religious Zionist environment and therefore the prospect of making aliyah was not such a daunting prospect. I found myself travelling to Israel with increasing frequency as my involvement in communal work increased and the time came when it seemed logical to settle in Israel. In addition my experiences in the Soviet Union during the campaign to “let my people go” convinced me that I should also go to our ancestral land. When the children moved I knew that the time had finally arrived.

JW: Do you recommend it for other Diaspora leaders?

IL: Well, everyone has to make up their own mind. I can only say that only in Israel can one live a true enriching Jewish life.

JW: Should young teens leave their families and make aliyah? Should they perhaps finish their tertiary education first?

IL: Again it is a personal choice. Having said that however it is obviously easier to come after one has qualified in whatever field is relevant. Studying in a different language can also be a problem for many. The big hurdle at the moment is the difficulty in having certain foreign qualifications recognized here. This needs to be sorted out.

JW: Having been a major player in the campaign to free Soviet Jewry what are your thoughts when you see many still remaining in Russia, Ukraine and other places of the former Soviet empire?

IL: There will always be Jews left in Europe for one reason or another. Our task must be to make their lives bearable and provide help for those who wish to practice their Judaism. On the other hand I must say candidly that there is no future for Jews in Europe and they will rapidly become (if they are not already) pariahs in a continent whose history and soil is soaked with so much Jewish blood.

President Putin has surprised many by his sympathetic support for Jews in Russia today. Given past events his actions must be causing deceased Soviet leaders to be spinning in their graves!

JW: Over many years you have had close relationships with Australian political leaders from both main parties. In view of the growing power of the Moslem lobby do you think that Australia will face the same sort of scandals as are now surfacing in the British Labour Party?

IL: Australia has an enviable reputation as far as friendship with Israel and understanding its challenges. Whether this continues is an unknown. The current PM and his colleagues are certainly friends. The Labour Party has members who are friendly and understanding as well as those leftists whose thinking is akin to the international left where anti-Jewish & Israel bashing is part of their DNA. Today there is no Vietnam to protest about so the natural victim is Israel which in their eyes represents white colonial oppressive policies. Bob Carr would do well as a member of the current UK Labour Party.

JW: How will assimilation impact the ability of communities to advocate for and defend Israel?

IL: Assimilation in the USA and elsewhere amongst the non-Orthodox sector has reached catastrophic proportions. As those who drop out detach themselves from anything Jewish and the Jewish State it will become increasingly difficult to sustain. The generations which experienced the Holocaust and realized that Israel was critically important are dying out. As the years progress the challenges to motivate become harder. In open countries where Jews are encouraged to submerge their identity assimilation will take an increasing toll.

JW: The media has a large part to play in this delegitimisation.

IL: Yes, especially the internet and social media. We should be careful not to exaggerate. Not everything is disastrous and we have many successes.

JW: How do we combat the disconnect between young Jews and Israel?

IL: There is nothing like a personal encounter with Jewish life in Israel to jump-start a connection. As many youngsters as possible must be given the opportunity to take part in Birthright programmes and the March of the Living.

JW: Universities have become hot beds of hate with Jewish and even Israeli academics leading the campaign.

IL: The sight of Jews no longer being powerless and actually fighting back against terror and hate seems to unhinge these types. We must challenge them at every opportunity.

JW: What about NGOs funded by the EU and others who work against Israel?

IL: The Israeli Government needs to undertake a stronger campaign to expose and combat these foreign funded groups. Europe is exhibiting the grossest double standards when it comes to Israel. It is disgusting.

JW: What can be done to make the Chief Rabbinate relevant and user-friendly for the average Israeli?

IL: Abolish it in its current form!! It needs to be reconstituted with Rabbis who are part of every day society, who participate in all facets of Israeli life including the IDF and who are prepared to solve modern problems with modern thinking. The scandal of the Russian Jews who need to be converted but are currently in limbo is a prime example.

JW: What is your prognosis for Israel and the rest of the Jewish world?

IL: As I mentioned at the outset only in Israel can Jews really experience and live a full Jewish life. There is a looming crisis between the Diaspora and Israel. The Israeli electoral system is dysfunctional and must be reformed. A unity Government at this stage would in my opinion be beneficial.

Despite the challenges we face and that a genuine peace with our neighbors is not even on the horizon, Israel today is an extraordinarily powerful state, capable of defending itself against all its adversaries combined.

Whilst many Diaspora Jewish communities are being eroded, one can be highly optimistic that Israel will grow from strength to strength and guarantee the future of the Jewish people.

Isi Leibler was interviewed by Michael Kuttner.



2 Responses to “A conversation with Isi Leibler”
  1. Hilary Rubinstein says:

    Mazal Tov! That makes at least two well-deserved honorary doctorates so far for IJL.

  2. ben gershon says:

    well deserved.

    mazle tov

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