NEW YORK (Feb. 24)
Premier Yitzhak Shamir wound up his official visit to the U.S. Tuesday with summations of the major issues of concern to Israel and world Jewry that engaged him during the past 10 days here, and the possible government crisis facing him when he returns home Wednesday.
His last 48 hours in the country were packed with literally end-to-end meetings with national and local Jewish community leaders, Jewish youth, educators and religious leaders. He addressed himself repeatedly to the subject of Soviet Jews who immigrate to the United States rather than to Israel. And, mainly in response to the persistent questions of reporters, he spoke frankly of the serious rift between himself and Vice Premier/ Foreign Minister Shimon Peres over an international peace conference for the Middle East to which Shamir is adamantly opposed.
He hinted, on more than one occasion, that if not resolved, that issue may well bring down the Labor-Likud unity coalition government.
BUSY AS SPEAKER
Shamir spoke before the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations here Monday afternoon. On Monday night he addressed 1,500 young leaders of the New York Jewish community at Hunter College.
He described to both audiences his meetings in Washington last week with President Reagan and other top Administration officials, and spoke in glowing terms of the state of U.S.-Israel relations. It is “great, close and very friendly,” Shamir declared.
He disclosed that he told Reagan at their White House meeting that, contrary to some reports, the U.S. has not lost prestige in the Middle East and is still the most important factor in that region.
“The Arabs know that without the U.S. nothing could be achieved in the Middle East,” the Premier declared. He said he assured the President that the U.S. enjoys the confidence of Israel and most of the Arab nations. “I think that the Administration accepted my approach and my assessment” of the Middle East situation, Shamir told his audiences in New York.
He acknowledged that the Administration takes a different view on an international conference, but said he found many reservations in official Washington toward such a forum in which the Soviet Union would most likely participate. He stressed that in his opinion there is only one way to achieve peace for the Middle East–direct negotiations. “The U.S. will go for an international peace conference as a way of bringing about direct talks between the parties,” Shamir said.
The issue has divided the Israeli government. Peres advocates Israel’s participation in such a conclave. In a briefing for Israeli journalists Tuesday, Shamir indirectly accused the Foreign Minister of violating government guidelines.
“There have been and there are different opinions between the two parties (Labor and Likud) which make up the government,” Shamir said. “In order to overcome that problem, we have basic guidelines of the unity government. If there are crises in the government, it is because someone is not adhering to the guidelines.”
He said he knew of Peres’ visit to Cairo, beginning Wednesday, to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. They will doubtless discuss an international peace conference, which they agreed to at their last meeting in Alexandria in September.
But nobody can impose a position that is not accepted by the Cabinet and the Knesset, Shamir declared. He indicated that if a crisis arises and is not solved, there is a possibility of new elections in Israel.
SPOKE TO ACTIVISTS, LEADERS
Shamir also spoke to Soviet Jewry activists and other community leaders here Tuesday. He is reported to have said that Soviet Jews who leave the USSR with visas for Israel but go instead to the U.S. “deceive” not only the Soviet government but the Israeli government. He said the Soviets have indicated they are thus reluctant to increase Jewish emigration. He said he had pressed the Administration in Washington to stop granting the special refugee status to Soviet Jewish immigrants which enables them to come to the U.S. instead of Israel.
The meeting was closed to the press. But several Jewish leaders who attended said afterwards that they disagreed with Shamir’s approach to the issue.
At a meeting with 70 Jewish educators here Tuesday, Shamir observed that only 50 percent of American Jewish school-age children receive any kind of a Jewish education. “Jewish education makes a difference in the future of the Jewish people,” he said. “The only way to save our people is by providing them with a Jewish education.”
Shamir warned that the lack of Jewish education “is a cultural disaster. We are going to lose more Jews because of it than we lost in the Holocaust.” He cited intermarriage, assimilation and the influence of other religions and cults on many Jews as possible consequences.
INVITATION TO MOVE
Shamir urged American Jews to come to Israel on aliya. He called specifically on Reform and Conservative Jews who complain of discrimination in Israel to live in Israel. There they can influence the decisions of the Knesset and government and participate in Israel’s political life, he noted.
Shamir was scheduled to meet late Tuesday afternoon with leaders of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism to discuss such issues as “Who is a Jew?” and the Law of Return.
Later in the evening he was to address businessmen at a meeting of the New York Economic Club. He will leave on his return flight to Israel sometime after midnight.