Lawmaker Sees Need for U.S. Jews and Israelis to Learn More About Each Other
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Lawmaker Sees Need for U.S. Jews and Israelis to Learn More About Each Other

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Rep. Larry Smith (D. Fla.), who returned here last week from a meeting in Israel of young American and Israeli young Jewish leaders, said there is a need for American Jews and Israelis to learn more about each other.

“We are as naive about them as they are about us,” said Smith, who was one of two Congressmen who participated in the first World Assembly of Young Jewish Leadership as part of the United Jewish Appeal Young Leadership Cabinet. The other Congressman was Rep. Dan Glickman (D. Kan.).

Speaking to two reporters from the Jewish media in his Capitol Hill office Friday, Smith said the Israeli and American Jews had three-and-a-half days of “gut-wrenching” discussions of the issues. He said it was agreed that there had to be a continuing dialogue with more input by diaspora Jews and more Israelis visiting the United States so that they could “understand how things operate here.”

Smith said there was much discussion on the need to change the way aliya is promoted in the United States and how those who, having gone on aliya, are dealt with after they arrive in Israel.


Regarding aliya by American Jews, Smith said that Zionism has little meaning for American Jews, with very few of them belonging to Zionist organizations. He suggested this started when Israel became a nation in 1948. “When ‘next year in Jerusalem’ became a reality, then many diaspora Jews who could have made aliya didn’t have to, ” the Congressman explained. “They could be next year in Jerusalem and then go home and enjoy the material comforts of being an American Jew. They had the best of both worlds.”

Smith said that there was a consensus between the Americans and the Israelis on the need to change the way the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency operate. He said the Americans particularly objected that everything in the two institutions was politicized and argued there was a need to de-politicize them.

He said there was a feeling that the young Israelis, who would be the future leaders of these institutions, agreed. He said that while change was “urgent,” it did not have to come immediately but could be more gradual.

The Israelis stressed the need for Jewish education and particularly the learning of Hebrew in the diaspora, Smith said. He noted that in reply the Americans expressed concern about the secularism of Israeli society, on the one hand, and the dominance of Orthodox Jewry on the other.

But Smith warned that “we tend to look at their problems with our solutions and that is unfair.” He said American Jews must understand more the “pressures” of Israeli society.


Before going to Israel, Smith and Glickman met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. Smith said he corrected some of the “misperceptions” that Mubarak seemed to have about the new United States-Israeli agreement on strategic cooperation. He said he assured Mubarak that the agreement would have no effect on United States-Egyptian relations nor will it mean any reduction of U.S. aid to Egypt. But Smith, a freshman member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that he stressed to Mubarak that Congressmen, who seek reelection every year, “need our friends to cooperate with each other. “

Smith said, speaking later to Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir, that Shamir said it was “unfortunate” that the Arab states “felt compelled” to attack the agreement. But he said this was a problem for the United States, not for Israel.

Smith said he felt that the agreement only ratified what had been policy but that it was helpful in that instead of having a short-term policy, the United States now had a long-term strategy. He said the Reagan Administration had finally caught up to what Congress had been arguing in favor for a year.

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