Menu JTA Search

Pennsylvania Governor, Visiting Israel, Says Strong Israel is Central to American Interests

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

Gov. Dick Thornburgh of Pennsylvania visibly impressed by what he described as “an exciting and rewarding five-day trip through Israel” –his first look — told reporters in Jerusalem that “a strong Israel is central to American interests. If the U.S. wants to preserve its respect on the international scene, it must honor its commitments to its allies,” according to a report on the Governor’s trip in this week’s edition of the Jewish Exponent. The Republican official visited Israel last month.

Asked by the Jewish Exponent correspondent in Israel what report he intends to bring to his fellow Pennsylvanians, Thomburgh said; “I will stress the fact that the U.S. continues to have a staunch friend in Israel, which looks to our nation with profound respect. It’s been an inspiration to witness the extraordinary progress this small, democratic country has made.”

Continuing, the governor asserted: “We have a stake in Israel’s stability and advancement, for if we wish to preserve our oil and trade interests in the Middle East we must make every effort to bring a just and lasting peace to the area.” He stressed that he was “confident” that President-elect Reagan “feels the same way and that he will not allow himself to be pressured by big business and the oil trusts to enter any agreement with OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) or other states which would be injurious to Israel.”

Replying to a question as to whether he believes that cuts in aid to Israel might be made by a Republican Administration, the governor expressed his confidence that the President-elect is aware of the fact that “the U.S. has a stake in Israel” and would do nothing to weaken that country. He noted that Richard Allen, Reagan’s Foreign Policy Advisor, has often stressed Israel’s strategic importance to the U.S.

ISRAEL’S BORDERS ARE VULNERABLE

“I had a chance to see just how vulnerable Israel’s borders are,” Thornburgh stresses. “Anyone who goes to the Galilee can see for himself why it’s necessary for Israel to be constantly alert, and understandably sensitive about requests — sometimes demands — from well-intentioned people who from afar cannot appreciate the situation in which Israel finds itself. It’s a small country with vulnerable borders and hostile, well-armed neighbors.

“I can understand why Israel can mistakenly be considered hyper-sensitive on the matter of its security. I visited Yod Voshem, the memorial in Jerusalem to the six million victims who perished in Hitler’s Europe. Israelis — indeed, Jews everywhere — are haunted by that trauma. They are determined to survive. I would recommend that every statesman visit that shrine and see for himself why every Israeli tends to view events through the prism of the Holocaust. Six million human beings were butchered as the world looked on.”

The governor also remarked that after seeing Jerusalem he could appreciate why the city must remain undivided. “Better a little friction now and then,” he said, “rather than barbed wire.” According to the governor, the Camp David accords hold out the best possible prospects for peace. “It will undoubtedly become the cornerstone of Reagan’s policy vis-a-vis Egypt and Israel,” he affirmed.

What would be America’s position were Israel to be attacked again? “We’d rush aid as fast as possible,” came the prompt reply.

One of the most moving experiences of the governor’s trip occurred when he and his wife Ginny met the relatives in Israel of Jewish “refusniks” they had spoken to during an earlier National Governors’ Association trip to the Soviet Union. The encounter was arranged by Joseph Smukler, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia, and his wife Connie, Philadelphia co-chairperson of JCRC’s Soviet Jewry Council.

DENOUNCES ANTI-SEMITISM

Speaking out strongly against Russian persecution of Jews wishing to leave for Israel, the governor stated that “until the question of granting human rights is satisfactorily settled, there could be little opportunity for increased trade between the U.S. and the Soviet Union,” which the Kremlin desires. He strongly endorsed the Jackson-Vanik amendment which he maintained had compelled the Russians to mitigate their oppression of their Jewish minority. He stated that he would work for the release of imprisoned Jews whose only crime was their desire to leave the USSR.

Noting that anti-Semitism was not confined only to the Soviet Union but had raised its head again in Western Europe. Thornburgh pledged that he would take vigorous action if he encounters it in Pennsylvania. “I can well understand Israel’s bitterness with what is taking place in so-called democratic lands — they are accustomed to it in Moslem and Soviet-dominated countries — and I, too, share their sense of outrage,” he said.

The Thornburghs took a day off from their tour of Israel to make a quick trip to Egypt where they met with officials close to President Anwar Sadat. They come away, the governor said, convinced that the Egyptian people wonted peace as much as the Israelis.

The week-long Israel mission was arranged with the cooperation of the Israel Foreign Ministry and was coordinated by the Federation of Jewish Agencies of Greater Philadelphia.

One of the highlights of the governor’s visit was a trip to the “good fence” at the Israeli-Lebanese border where he and Mrs. Thornburgh met Maj. Saod Haddad, the leader of the Christian forces in southern Lebanon. “Here we had an opportunity to see how peace can be attained on a people-to-people basis,” Thornburgh stated. “Both are working together against their common enemy, the PLO, which, significantly enough, has taken a toll of for more Christian lives than Jewish ones.”

NEXT STORY