Samuel Hayek, the Israeli-born British real estate magnate, philanthropist and occasional political interlocutor, views with pessimism the direction Judaism is taking in the world.
According to him, the Jews of the United States will probably not survive more than one or two generations, given the number of interfaith marriages, and the Jews of Europe and other communities of the world are being diluted in terms of anti-Semitism and assimilation.
Whether we agree with his claims or not, Hayek has decided to make amends, notably by asking the Jewish National Fund – Keren Kayemet LeYisrael (JNF-KKL), an organization with which he has been involved for fifteen years. year – about promising. NIS 1 billion per year for the next ten years to support Jewish communities around the world, giving them the resources they need to stay together and thrive.
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This would represent a radical reversal of the role of the JNF-KKL, which was officially established 121 years ago to do the exact opposite. For decades, Jews all over the world have poured their coins into one Pushka, or charity box, blue by JNF to help build the Jewish state. Today, Hayek is calling on the organization to return these funds to Jews around the world.
“Jewish communities around the world are at best neglected, if not completely ignored by Israel. It is a good idea that we have a Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. But when you look at the budget of this ministry, it is very revealing of the Israeli government’s attitude towards the diaspora,” said Hayek, the director of the Jewish National Fund-United Kingdom (JNF-UK), a related but technically separate organization from the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemet LeYisrael (JNF-KKL) in Israel. (Most countries have their own affiliated but discrete JNF).
Hayek’s interview with Times of Israel took place in the back of his SUV on route 6 towards the presidential residence from the town of Yeruham, which has received millions of shekels in donations from JNF-UK in recent years. On the same day, the British administrators of JNF-UK inaugurated a new promenade along one of the entrances to the city, before traveling to Jerusalem for a meeting with President Isaac Herzog.
“So where can we find the human and financial resources to ensure the long-term existence of Jewish communities around the world?” Hayek asked. settled in Israel, had a piece of land to farm and build their home on. Today, KKL owns 13% of all land in the State of Israel – and it’s some of the best places in Israel – it’s an asset that KKL has for the Jewish people. .
Do you know what we could do with 1 billion shekels a year? Huge
“KKL’s annual turnover is in the billions of shekels per year. Is it an exaggeration to suggest that KKL allocates 1 billion shekels per year for the next 10 years? To save our people, to save Jewish communities around the world? “, he declared.
“The last thing you can say about me is that I’m a dreamer, I’m not. I believe it can be done. »
Although he is very polite when he presents his idea of a billion shekels, he does not ask for them kindly. His request is a not-so-subtle call for order to the JNF, an organization accused for years of corruption, nepotism, playing politics despite its tax exemption and paying exorbitant salaries to its senior staff, among other things.
“I think they have an obligation to do that. Look at the image that KKL has built up over the past 15-20 years. They have a bad reputation. And the voices that rise up against them come from everywhere. “Let’s nationalize it. Who needs them? Hayek explained.
“The feeling is that these assets would be better managed by the government than by KKL… [ils] suffer from their very bad reputation. If KKL accepted such a project, it would radically change its image,” he said.
In fact, the organization’s practices have been criticized by right- and left-wing governments over the years, with some calling for nationalization.
According to Hayek, such a massive investment in Jewish communities around the world is something the Israeli government simply would not be able to achieve.
“If the government came to KKL and took their money, do you think they would invest 1 billion shekels to save Jewish communities around the world? It’s beyond reason,” he said.
While Hayek has specific plans to shake up the organization, he is a little more unclear about how the money will be spent. Its overall idea is to send emissaries to Jewish communities around the world – in a stronger and more comprehensive way than organizations such as the Jewish Agency currently do. The details of the organization could be easily and quickly decided by a team of experts according to him.
“I first have to convince the KKL board of the need to change their goals and do it,” he explained. “Then it will be necessary to form a group, a think tank, which will develop the means, the best means and the best plans to achieve this goal. I don’t think it will take a year to put these devices in place. I think , it can be done in a few months, once the decision is made.
“We will have to recruit hundreds of emissaries so that no Jewish community in the world will have to fend for itself. And these emissaries will have to go to these communities, live with them, connect them with Israel, teach them Hebrew, teach them Judaism. Judaism could not be left out of the equation. Judaism is the most important tool that connects people to the land promised to our forefathers,” he said.
“I think that if it is done, changes will be visible in a few years. Do you realize what we could do with a billion shekels a year? Huge. »
From Kfar Saba to London
At the helm of the Jewish National Fund-UK since 2008, Hayek has helped revive this declining organization.
Last year, Hayek caused considerable consternation in the British Jewish world after telling it Jerusalem Post that the community had no future in the face of the sharp increase in Muslim immigration to Britain, earning it accusations of Islamophobia and condemnation from some senior British Jewish leaders, including Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. Although he never apologized, Hayek later clarified that his remarks had been somewhat misinterpreted and that his concerns “were not directed at any minority or at Muslims in Britain or Europe. , but at anyone who spreads hatred and harms the Jews.”
A year later, Hayek said he should have “chosen his words more carefully” but was glad his remarks sparked a debate about the future of British Jewry. “It woke people up from their stupor,” he said.
Hayek, born to Iraqi parents in the central Israeli city of Kfar Saba, served in the Israeli army during the Yom Kippur War before moving to Britain to study law after struggling to get accepted into an Israeli program.
Hayek became involved in right-wing politics from an early age, as chairman of Likud’s youth wing. He worked closely with Ariel Sharon and has ties to future Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, as well as a number of other right-wing and centrist figures.
Although he has spent most of the past 40 years in Britain, Hayek has remained an important conduit in right-wing political circles, particularly as he helped broker the deals between Netanyahu and Liberman after the latter broke up. split from Likud to form his Yisrael Beytenu party. Hayek remains extremely close to Yisrael Beytenu, and one of its members – Minister Oded Forer – even came to Yeruham to meet Hayek during the visit.
Hayek, who owns a gallery in Jaffa, has a melancholy look when asked about Israeli and Jewish art.
“I believe that a person’s soul cannot survive long without access to art, be it music, visual arts, theater or any other art form. One day a person – a very important person in this country – sat down with me when I was living in Jaffa and got angry with me. How can you waste so much money on a piece of canvas with paint on it? Aren’t there more important things in life than that? Hayek said. “How do you explain art to someone like that? »
Until recently he split his time between London and Tel Aviv, but a few months ago he decided to live full-time in Ramat Gan, returning periodically to the UK to oversee his vast property holdings in the country. .
“Every time I went to London, I looked for an excuse to come back to Israel sooner. And every time I came back to Israel, I looked for excuses to stay longer. After years like this, I said to myself: ‘ It’s enough to make excuses. If you want to be in Israel, stay in Israel,” he said.