Behind the Headlines ‘devastation Number One’ at the Women’s Conference in Copenhagen
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Behind the Headlines ‘devastation Number One’ at the Women’s Conference in Copenhagen

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“Devastation number one” was going to the United Nations Decade for Women Conference with “high expectations to learn what progress had been made over the last five years” since the first women’s conference in Mexico City in 1975. That is the evaluation by Chiae Herzig, copresident of the Women’s Division of the American Jewish Congress, who represented that organization in the open forum in Copenhagen last month.

If there were any efforts mode to discuss topics other than those berating Israel, “those efforts were subverted,” she continued. Herzig also reported that some active feminists, such as Bella Abzug, were so frustrated, they simply left the conference altogether.

Herzig had encounters with Jewish women from all around the world and noted that “for them, Israel was number one on the agenda at all times.” After hearing a constant barrage of anti-Israel rhetoric, “one’s instinct rises to the defense of the things that are close to you.” she said.

According to Herzig, any meetings she had with women from Arab or Third World countries revolved around “small talk” and she never really “felt comfortable or cordial with them.” Herzig never had the feeling that some of those delegates were at all sympathetic to Israel or that any of them said things at-various sessions that they did not believe.

Although Herzig found many of the women representing anti-Israeli countries “articulate and very bright,” she observed “the day has to come that in addition to speaking they also think. There is no question in my mind that the women at the conference spoke what the men (their counterparts at the United Nations) said.”


When asked about the relationship between the Jewish women and the American delegation, Herzig responded: “Are we friends? Yes, we are friends. Do we know each other well? Yes, we know each other well. Each of the delegates … understood thoroughly the positions of the United States and articulated them.” Although the U.S. delegation “stood firm” in their support of Israel, Herzig, as a leader of a major Jewish organization, found the U.S. delegation to be particularly pro-American but not particularly pro-Jewish.

According to Herzig, there were some positive results from the conference, including the signing of an agreement to end all discrimination against women as well as positive resolutions on education and the elderly. The cordial hospitality displayed by the Danish Jewish community of Copenhagen, as in the preparation of Shabbat candles, was another such positive effect. However, these things “did not offset the heartache felt,” she said.

Herzig said that the goals of the conference were “never achieved” and attending was an “unnerving experience.” Referring to the final conference of the UN Decode for Women to be held in Nairobi, Kenya in 1985, Herzig said: “I will not go to Kenya. I will leave that to someone with more stamina.”

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