NEW YORK (Oct. 28)
Prime Minister Shimon Peres of Israel yesterday told North American Jewish leaders, in a teleconference from a studio in Jerusalem, that he and other Israeli leaders had no fears about whether Israel could handle an influx of new comers from the Soviet Union, if such a development occurred.
The first international teleconference was organized by the American Zionist Federation to link 18 American Jewish communities and Montreal in a dialogue with Peres.
The live television program was relayed by satellite from a studio in Jerusalem to a panel of leading Jews in a Manhattan studio and to an audience estimated at 10,000 listeners in New York and other cities. Most of them watched in synagogues linked to the satellite.
The Premier was responding to a question from Charlotte Jacobson, president of the Jewish National Fund, who asked, “Given the situation in Israel and the very high unemployment, how does Israel see itself able to absorb large numbers of immigrants from the Soviet Union or even the smaller numbers from the United States?” She added, “We have a great deal of concern that even our small aliya is threatened by the prospect of not having employment in Israel” for the immigrants.
Peres responded that “more than the country building the immigrants, the immigrants are building the country.” He said there were times when Israel was taking in “thousands of immigrants” daily when Israel was “really poor, in a terrible shape. We didn’t have a penny in our pocket.”
Peres added that he was “sure” that if immigration started again, “optimism and more optimism will be introduced in our country. And what is actually an economy if not the spirit of the people?” He declared also that he believed “our economy is now on the way to recovery. The people of Israel are ready to make important sacrifices to bring order to our house and all indications are that we are returning to the right way.”
THREE MAIN CHALLENGES FOR ISRAEL
A viewer in Pittsburgh asked: “What do you see as the three main challenges for Israel in the 21st century as we look to the future?”
The Premier replied: first, “to make our country true to its heritage, namely, a country that is based on moral values, and demonstrates that spirit,” asserting it was not necessarily true that “expediency can form a new and a successful society in our times.”
“Secondly,” he said, “I would like really to see Israel growing culturally, based on a larger audience of people who speak, who sing, who read and who write in the language of the Bible.”
Then, he continued, “I would like to see peace in our area and Israel becoming not only a country that lives in peace with her neighbors but also a country that contributes, as we would like so deeply, to other countries poorer than we are with needs more burning than we have and really showing what we would like to show — generosity in our concepts.”
The Premier added, “We would like, since there is a possibility that Jewish life will remain elsewhere, to become the spiritual center of Jewish life and really show that whatever we have suffered for, is being translated in a reality which is not disappointing, by justifying our belief that every man can better himself and every society can become better.”
VIEW ON PEACE OVERTURE TO JORDAN
In answer to other questions by Brooklyn District Attorney Elizabeth Holtzman and Daniel Schorr, the moderator of the 70-minute session, Peres said that despite disagreement in the Cabinet with his peace overture to Jordan, “we shall have enough support to carry on.” On another question, whether King Hussein of Jordan is too weak to make peace with Israel by himself, Peres answered:
“Why pass the judgement that he is too weak? I think he is strong enough to do so. He needs peace as badly as we do. I believe the King is in a position to negotiate. A man is as strong as he feels.”
Peres also reiterated, in response to related questions, that there “is no replacement for direct negotiations” in the peace process. “I do not believe we can reach an agreement unless we shall meet face to face.” He added: “No international forum can serve as a substitute for direct negotiations. Yet I can think of many ways in which international support may be helpful.” Specifically, he said that the UN Security Council could help by calling for direct negotiations.
In Paris, over the weekend, Peres said that under certain circumstances, the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, both permanent members of the Security Council, could vote in favor of such an undertaking.