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42 Leaders Sign Protest Statement Expressing Differences with Shamir

Forty-two prominent American Jewish leaders sent a letter Thursday to visiting Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, asserting that there are “profound differences” in the American Jewish community over his peace policies.

The letter was delivered to Shamir in Washington, in advance of his address here Thursday night to the 58th General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations.

Its undisguised purpose was to prevent the prime minister from claiming that his warm reception here is proof that the American Jewish community fully supports his peace policies.

“When you are presented to the General Assembly and all rise to greet you with every courtesy that is due the prime minister of Israel, we respectfully ask of you this: Please do not mistake courtesy for consensus, or applause for endorsement of all the policies you pursue,” the letter says.

The letter points out that American Jews hold “diverse views” on the Middle East peace process.

“We have differed on how best to move toward implementation of your government’s proposal for elections in the West Bank and Gaza,” it says.

“More basically, profound differences exist with respect to the principle of land for peace with secure borders, a principle that some reject outright, but, we believe, most American Jews do not reject.”

Shamir has stated clearly on several occasions that he is opposed to giving up additional territory as part of a peace settlement.

Among the signers of the letter were Theodore Mann and Lewis Weinstein, both past chairmen of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization; and three past chairpersons of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council: Jacqueline Levine, Michael Pelavin and Weinstein.

Also signing it were a number of prominent leaders from the local federations, including Morton Mandel, past president of CJF; Peggy Tishman of New York; Esther Leah Ritz of Milwaukee; and past presidents of the federations in Boston, Houston and Miami.

Leaders of Reform and Conservative Judaism were also represented, as well as such names as actor Theodore Bikel and Hyman Bookbinder, the former Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee.

According to Mann, who helped organize the effort, the letter was intended to prevent a repeat of what happened in the spring of 1988, after Shamir met with the United Jewish Appeal young leadership in Miami.

At that time, Shamir returned to Israel and reported that American Jews “agree with everything I say and do,” said Mann, a former president of the American Jewish Congress.

If the prime minister did that now, it would be “very harmful for the Israeli public to believe that and even more harmful for the (Bush) administration to think,” he said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The letter is careful to say that “neither American Jewry nor the U.S. government can impose a solution or a process on you and the Israeli people. Only the Israeli people and their democratically-elected government can make final judgments on these matters.

“But we owe you more than courtesy and expressions of respect,” it reads. “We owe you honesty and clarity as well.”

Mann said the letter was significant insofar as its signers represent the mainstream of American Jewish life. “These are not in any way fringe people,” he said.

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