Menu JTA Search

Peres Stresses Divisions in Israel Are a Healthy Sign of Democracy

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres sought Monday night to assuage American Jewish concern about the deep divisions in Israel over the peace process and other major policy issues.

“I know that you are worried about the fact that we are divided in Israel,” he told some 2,000 Jewish leaders attending a banquet here during the 29th annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Quipping that airing differences is one way “we remain Jewish,” Peres stressed that pluralism is the strength, not weakness, of a democracy. “The countries that did attack us were united; we were divided. Yet we won the wars; they lost them,” he said.

Peres said that Israel’s strengths are the ability to unite when necessary and the togetherness of the Jewish people. He stressed that despite their differences, all Israelis are united in their friendship and gratitude to the United States.

“We have never asked the United States to send soldiers to help to defend our country, but we have always asked the United States to send diplomats to help us make peace,” he said.

“Israel would never be what it is without you, and you probably would never be what you are without us,” he told the AIPAC delegates.

While Peres applauded the differences within Israel, two U.S. senators who spoke at the banquet warned that criticism by Jews and others in the United States may endanger Israel.

SENATORS WARN OF CRITICISM

“Every criticism saps Israel’s energy for dealing with the dangers she faces,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). He said there has been an erosion of support for Israel because of the television pictures of Israel’s handling of the uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“It is not enough for American Jews to support Israel. The rest of our country must, as well,” McConnell said.

Sen. J. Bennett Johnson Jr. (D-La.) said members of Congress should keep from pressing solutions on Israel since it Israel’s survival is at stake. “It is not up to dilettantes to advise what is the best formula,” he said.

Peres did not refer to the uprising in the territories directly, but he said Israel will give Palestinians all their legitimate rights, but not the right to attack it. “We shall not censor the minds of Arabs, but we shall not permit anyone to come with a stone, or a knife, or a bomb in his pockets,” he said.

The Israeli leader said he was pleased that so many young people were attending the AIPAC conference “to share our mission and our dream, and we have to make our mission and our dream clear to them.”

Israel has become strong and secure and now seeks peace and security for itself and all of its neighbors, Peres said. “We are determined to keep the State of Israel as Jewish state numerically and as a Jewish state morally,” he declared.

NEXT STORY