NEW YORK (Feb. 5)
The planned 10-day visit to Egypt by a delegation of the Synagogue Council of America (SCA) has come under attack from the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (UOJC), one of the six constituent members of the SCA, which has demanded that the trip be called off.
Harold M. Jacobs, president of the UOJC, said his organization exercised its right of veto because the trip is “ill-timed, ill-conceived and ill-advised and not in the best interests of the (Middle East) peace talks.” According to Rabbi Pinchas Stolper, UOJC executive vice-president, any of the SCA’s constituent bodies has the right to veto any action of the SCA, the umbrella group of the Conservative, Orthodox and Reform synagogue and rabbinic organizations, and it is constitutionally bound to honor that veto.
But Henry Siegman, executive vice-president of the SCA, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the UOJC exercised the veto beyond the time limit in which it was able to do so. According to Siegman, the UOJC did not participate in the discussion regarding the trip and only exercised the veto after it was too late. “This renders their veto action totally meaningless and we will not abide by it under the circumstances,” he said.
Jacobs said the UOJC veto was sent by letter Jan. 17 and given verbally the next day. The SCA was originally scheduled to leave for Cairo Jan. 26 but postponed the trip to Feb. 12 for what its president, Rabbi Saul I. Teplitz, said were “logistical reasons.” Siegman said the “logistical reasons” had nothing to do with the veto.
TWO MEMBERS WITHDRAW
He said that two members of the original 15-member delegation had withdrawn, Herbert Berman, a member of the UOJC, and Rabbi Walter S. Wurzburger, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, the Orthodox rabbinical group in the SCA.
In a letter to Teplitz Friday, Jacobs noted that the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations had voted unanimously not to meet with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat during his visit to the United States. “The reason for this vote is that it was felt that the American Jewish community should not appear to be involved in the peace negotiations between Egypt and Israel,” Jacobs said.
He said that Sadat is trying to use the American Jewish community to pressure Israel. “Meetings at this point would be interpreted as support of his positions to the detriment of Israel,” Jacobs said. “This logic applies not only to meetings in the United States but in Egypt as well.”
The SCA was invited to visit Egypt by Ashraf Ghorbal, the Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S., after Ghorbal addressed the organization’s board in New York Dec. 7, the first Arab ambassador to speak to an American Jewish organization. The group is expected to meet with Sadat and Moslem and Christian Coptic leaders in Cairo.
Meanwhile, 40 American Jews will be staying at Mena House outside Cairo starting Feb. 12 in what a spokesman said is an effort to impress upon Egyptian citizens the necessity of keeping up peace negotiations. The trip was announced by Givat Haviva Educational Foundation, which is ideologically affiliated with Mapam’s Kibbutz Artzi in Israel, and Americans for Progressive Israel. The two groups organized the trip.
“As a prospective settler on a kibbutz in Israel, I want to feel that we are doing everything possible to keep the peace initiative alive,” Gil Bashe, the young man heading the delegation declared. Noting that Sadat recently addressed himself to American Jews, Bashe said, “We support all moves which will stop the danger of war and recognize the essential interests of all peoples in the area. This can be done only by compromise and mutual consideration without the use of ultimatums and threats.”
The delegation, which includes American Jews of all walks of life, will tour Egypt as well as meet with citizens and then go to Israel to attend the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem.