NEW YORK (Jul. 4)
Premier Menachem Begin said he had “decided to sit at the negotiating table with one purpose” in mind, that of achieving peace, according to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel. The Chief Rabbi said he met with Begin June 23.
The Chief Rabbi told a press conference here Thursday night that there is “no doubt” that Begin has the “appropriate qualifications” to govern Israel, that Begin is “good for the people” and that Begin is “a man of wisdom,” contrary to his image in the media. It is the “sacred duty of American Jewry and all those who want peace to give Begin their support,” the Chief Rabbi declared.
Yosef said his talks with Begin were of a “spiritual and religious” nature but because he considered the topic of peace a religious one, it was discussed with Begin. In his appeal for peace, the Chief Rabbi said that the Arab leaders should consider peace not only on economic terms; spiritual cooperation is vital as well. He said that Israel and the Arab leaders have a “long history of cultural symbiosis”.
Leaders of every Israeli government, including Begin’s, “stated publicly that they were ready and willing to meet with any Arab leaders to consider peace,” Yosef said. He also said that attempts to establish peace had also been made through secret negotiations but “the aim of Arab governments has been to destroy Israel”. Yosef cited the threat by the late Gamal Abdel Nasser as President of Egypt to drive Israel into the sea.
ISRAEL’S OBJECTIVE IS PEACE
Regarding border concessions, Yosef said he “knows only the mood and the will of Israel” and that “the present government wants peaceful, cultural and economic relations,” which will benefit all parties involved. It was not “necessary” for the Carter Administration “to give out statements prior to Begin’s visit” to Washington, he said.
Yosef said he had considered visiting President Carter but did not want to appear to be pressuring the United States prior to Begin’s visit here. If he had talked with the President, he said, he would have asked him why he repeatedly spoke of the plight of the Arab refugees without mentioning Jewish refugees.
In response to a question concerning the religious influence of Israel’s new coalition, Yosef said he did not believe there would be any “tension or friction” in Israel. Religious persons do not want to force others to adopt their customs, but the former should have the right to practice their beliefs, he said.
Yosef’s visit to the United States is being sponsored by Ozar Hatorah, an international network of Sephardic schools. He will be in this country until July 6. He has visited a Sephardic community in Brooklyn and plans to visit several more such communities before he returns to Israel.