NEW YORK (Apr. 20)
Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, who recently made his first official visit to Israel as chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he found a feeling of anxiety and unhappiness throughout Israeli society “from right to left, from top to bottom.”
But, “beneath this outer shell,” Schindler stressed, he found that the Israelis, “as always,” were united as a people and ready to make “sacrifices and determined to pursue national goals once they are fully articulated.”
He made his remarks in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency at the offices of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations of which he is president. Schindler said that unlike previous visits of the Presidents Conference to Israel where contact was limited to government officials, he sought to meet with Israelis of all views and from all segments of the society. “I met with 40 to 50 people in four days and held talks starting at 6 a.m. and ending at 10 p.m. to midnight.” he said.
Schindler said Israel’s problem is not only the lack of articulation of goals but also the present form of elections which makes reforms difficult because of the effectiveness of pressure groups. However, he noted that Israelis have complete faith in the army which they believe is strong and has made the needed changes in response to the Yom Kippur War.
The Presidents Conference leader stressed that pessimism may have been especially high during his visit because it came at a time of unrest on the West Bank, demonstrations by Israeli Arabs in the Galilee, the controversy in Washington over the sale of C-130 transport planes to Egypt and the $550 million in transitional quarter aid sought by Israel, and Ambassador William Scranton’s attack in the United Nations Security Council on Israel’s policies in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
DEEPLY CONCERNED ABOUT U.S. ATTITUDE
At the same time, Schindler said, the constant self-criticism he heard may also be due to the “Jewish penchant for self-flagellation and exaggerating the problem as worse than it really is.” He noted that Israeli newspapers, especially, tend to exaggerate the problems that Israel has with the United States.
However, Israelis are deeply concerned about the American attitude. Schindler said. “The one question by everyone was ‘has America decided to abandon Israel?’ ” Schindler said.
He said there is a “desperate reliance” by Israelis on the American Jewish community. Israelis realize “American is Israel’s only friend” and they look to the American Jewish community to influence American foreign policy, Schindler stressed. “We, the American Jewish community, are essentially a self-confident community,” Schindler said. “We speak up for Israel when it is popular and pray for the strength to do so when it is not,”
Schindler said the Israeli view the Presidents Conference as the voice of the American Jewish community. He said they accept his view that the Presidents Conference should take stands on issues that concern it without necessarily consulting with the Israelis.
RETOOLING PRESIDENTS CONFERENCE
The Reform Judaism leader said the major problem for American Jewry is to turn the Presidents Conference into a deliberative body where decisions can be made on a democratic basis. He said this is what he is trying to do and has already taken steps by having leaders of the United Jewish Appeal, United Israel Appeal and the Jewish Federations sit in on meetings. Schindler said he hopes to institutionalize these changes so they will be carried on when he leaves the chairmanship.
Asked about the criticism by Rabbi Mordechai Waxman in his valedictory address as president of the Rabbinical Assembly in which he criticized the Presidents Conference as being reactive rather than deliberative. Schindler said he later received a note from the Conservative leader. He said Waxman said he would not have made the charges if he had been aware of the changes Schindler was making.
Schindler said this year the Presidents Conference has an added responsibility because of the presidential elections. He stressed the group is non-partisan but it must deal with the Presidential candidates as well as the President. He said the Presidents Conference will be concerned with the platforms worked out by the parties at the national conventions and with the foreign policy advisors that the candidates choose.
The Israelis look at the upcoming election with fear, Schindler noted, because they know the policies of the Ford Administration and they do not know what a new Administration will do.