Behind the Headlines New UJA Chairman Says U.S. Jews’ Support for Israel ‘more Positive’ Than in Rec

Leonard R. Strelitz, who was elected general chairman of the United Jewish Appeal May 21, began his duties at a time of uncertainties over Israel’s next government and the United States’ position toward a settlement in the Mideast and its relations with Israel.

Strelitz says that despite the uncertainties, or maybe because of them, American Jewry’s support of Israel “is more positive now than in recent months.” This support, Strelitz believes, will increase in months to come and will be manifested in increased contributions to the UJA.

In a special interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency at his office at the UJA headquarters here, the 53-year-old Jewish leader from Norfolk, Va. said that the victory of the rightwing Likud Party in the May 17 general election in Israel did not affect American Jewry’s attitude toward Israel. “In my judgment, and I have made many calls since the elections and talked to many Jewish leaders and people on a grass roots level, there is not any lessening of support for Israel,” Strelitz said. Asked if the controversy over Likud’s extreme political positions, especially in regard to the future of the Arab territories held by Israel, could harm the UJA fund-raising campaign, Strelitz replied: “I think any American Jew who is committed to Israel certainly has got to wait until a government is formed to evaluate its composition and to give this government a period of time to operate.”

U.S. PRESSURE WILL INCREASE JEWRY’S SUPPORT

In his inauguration speech Strelitz declared that the American Jewish community’s solidarity with the people of Israel transcends all personalities and governments. “It is an enduring bond that cannot–and will not–be broken by circumstances…,” he said.

Strelitz, who has been active in Jewish communal life for over a decade, said that in his view American Jews will increase their support of Israel mainly because of the change in the Carter Administration’s Mideast policy and the continuing pressure of petro-dollar Arab countries. “The Jews understand pressure in their guts,” Strelitz said. “They perceive the pressure of the petro-dollar and they see a change in the Administration’s pronouncements in regard to relationship with Israel.” President Carter’s call for a Palestinian homeland, his talks about compensations to be paid to the Palestinian refugees by Israel and the emphasis of the U.S. on territories rather than on a real, genuine peace between Israel and her neighbors “do not sit well with American Jewry,” Strelitz said. He added that these factors “when communicated properly to the Jewish community will mean more support for Israel and will increase contributions to the UJA.”

WILL SOLICIT NON-GIVERS

On the allegation that the UJA fails to communicate with the masses of Jews, Strelitz said that his organization does not have the “devices and expertise to solicit the smaller gifts ($100 and under).” He said, however, that the UJA “is seeking now new ways and methods to approach the 55 percent non-giving Jewish community of America.” In addition, Strelitz said “I will have a national chairman and a committee assigned to report directly to me on new ideas on how to penetrate the non-giving Jewish community.” In Strelitz’s estimate, the non-giving Jewish community is potentially capable of doubling UJA total yearly contributions. He said that the goal for 1978 is to raise about $700 million compared to $470 million this year.

CALLS ALIYA SITUATION ‘ALARMING’

Aware that the UJA was instrumental in creating the image that the Israel-American Jewish relationship is based primarily on fund-raising, Strelitz, a furniture retailer, said that apart from the fund-raising on behalf of Israel the responsibilities of the American Jewish community toward Israel should focus on helping Israel gain a sound economic basis and increasing aliya to Israel. “The American Jewish community, I feel, has the expertise, ability and commitment to industrialize Israel. Until Israel becomes an exporting nation, her dependence on the West, and especially the United States, will continue. We can’t afford this dependence in case of a change in American support of Israel.”

Calling the aliya situation over the last three years “alarming,” Strelitz said that the resources of the American Jewish community should be mobilized to rectify the situation and “deal with it successfully.”

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