JERUSALEM (Jun. 28)
Why would 34,000 non-Jews from all over the world engage in extensive voluntary informational efforts to improve Israel’s image abroad? According to the 46 participants of the Third International Conference of Friendship Leagues with Israel, held in Jerusalem in June, the answer is everything from a sincere admiration for the Israeli people to a belief that Israel’s survival is vital to the interests of democratic nations everywhere.
The Israel Friendship League, 90 percent of whose members are not Jewish, is a non-profit organization established to enhance Israel’s image abroad. In many cases, the offspring of the various committees for a Jewish Palestine which sprang up in Europe before 1948, League members in 34 countries today serve to “bridge the gap between nations,” molding public opinion on issues of vital interest to Israel, holding cultural events and activities, and in general, generating increased support for Israel’s legitimate right to exist. In one case, lessons were given in modern and classical Hebrew.
This year, League members decided to convene in Jerusalem “because they felt it would be more pertinent and inspiring for them to discuss Israel from Israel,” explained Nachum Schutz, director of the World Zionist Organization’s external relations department under whose auspices the conference was organized. “They also wanted to clarify their task following the signing of the peace treaty with Egypt and to receive updated reports on the most recent political, social and economic developments.” In that connection conference participants met during the six-day contention with leading public officials, including President Yitzhak Navon, Deputy Premier Yigael Yadin, Foreign Ministry legal advisor Meir Rosenne, and others.
NON-JEWS AS ACTIVE AS JEWS FOR ISRAEL
Schutz added that members of different League branches “are not a homogeneous group. But they are all highly aware of developments in Israel most are very intelligent, and all are agreed on the principle of the secure existence of the State.” They comprise an impressive professional cross-section which includes Parliament members, trade union leaders, academicians and others. “The involvement of these people in pro-Israel activities is no less than that of the Jews in their respective countries, Schutz said.
One fact emerged from Jewish Telegraphic Agency interviews conducted with the delegates: Israel can count many friends among the world’s non-Jewish population, regardless of the official positions assumed by the various governments. “The vast majority of my people are pro-Israel,” said an Indian member of Parliament, Ram Jethmalani. “But governments have other methods of assessing national self-interests and because Israel is not an active election issue, the government feels free of any public pressure regarding it.” Despite the fact that the Indian government has declined, so far, to establish full diplomatic relations. with Israel, Jethroalani. foresaw a gradual change in this issue. “Changes must be slow and imperceptible. Logically we should have a greater understanding of Israel’s case because Israel is a democracy and India needs to align itself with other democracies. Also, the Jews have long been the victims of tyranny and suffering, and they need their own niche. I don’t see any better place for it than in Israel,” the MP said.
Jethmalani told the JTA that the activities of the League’s 75 branches in India have somewhat diminished in recent years due to the Israeli government’s diminishing interest in India.” He observed that “India is a democracy, and democracies often make wrong assessments, but that’s no reason to lose faith, for sooner or later they correct themselves. It is better to have a democratic friend than a totalitarian enemy,” he said.
British councillor Frank Gibson, chairman of the Anglo-Israel Friendship League of Finchley, explained the League’s benefit in other terms: “My country helped set up this country (Israel) through the Balfour Declaration. But it took an American President to help realize the peace process. It is time that Britain became more closely involved in helping to solve the problems facing Israel.” Gibson added that a fellow Finchley constituent, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, is honorary president and farmer chairman of the Friendship League.