WASHINGTON (Feb. 5)
President Bush told two dozen Jewish leaders at the White House on Monday that he is disturbed about the reports he has been receiving about the increased threat of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.
Bush understands that the issue now is not just emigration, but rescue,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
He said that there was a “real emotional content” to the discussion on Soviet Jews. “You could see he (Bush) was taking these issues very seriously,” Hoenlein said.
The president met with 24 Jewish leaders, representing the Conference of Presidents and the National Jewish Coalition, an organization of Jewish Republicans. He has met jointly with the groups before, most recently last March.
Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents, led the delegation. He told reporters that the meeting centered on the issue of Soviet Jewry and the need for the United States to continue its efforts in the Middle East peace process.
“If anything came out of that meeting, it was a sense of unity that the American Jewish community has in terms of the Soviet Jewry, anti-Semitism and wanting to go forward on the peace process,” Reich said.
NO CLUES ON BAKER MEETING
He said most of the Jewish leaders felt optimistic after the meeting that the peace process will move forward, despite occasional differences between the United States and Israel.
“The president and we were in sync, in terms of the peace process,” Reich said.
But he said the delegation was not given any clues on when Secretary of State James Baker will hold an anticipated meeting with his Israeli and Egyptian counterparts, Moshe Arens and Esmat Abdel Meguid.
The meeting is to set the stage for preliminary Israeli-Palestinian talks hosted by Egypt.
Rumor had it that Baker was planning to meet with the two foreign ministers in a European capital, such as Geneva, after the conclusion of his talks in Moscow on Friday with Soviet officials.
But such a meeting reportedly has been called off in the wake of the terrorist attack Sunday on an Egyptian tour bus full of Israelis.
“I think the meeting will occur after some continued planning by the United States, Israel and Egypt,” Reich said.
Reich said the president was told of the “great fear of anti-Semitism” growing among Jews in the Soviet Union, one of the reasons Soviet Jews are leaving for Israel in ever increasing numbers.
He said the Jewish leaders had a sense that Bush understood that Jews in the Soviet Union are in “mortal danger.”
“Israel is there, not like the 1930s, where there was no haven for Jews who tried to escape persecution of the Nazis and were swallowed up in the Holocaust,” Reich said the president was told.
He said Israel is ready to take in all Soviet Jews, and the “United States might be called upon to give assistance to that settlement.”
On a related issue, Reich said Bush understands that only 1 percent of the Soviet Jews immigrating to Israel had settled on the West Bank, despite the criticism of this by the United States.
He told Bush of his talks with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir by telephone last week, in which Shamir assured him it was not the policy of the government to settle Soviet Jews in the territories.
But Shamir added that “Soviet Jews have a right to settle and to live in any place in Israel that they want,” Reich said. He added that Israelis understand that U.S. aid cannot be used in the administered territories.
“I think the president understood that, and I think that is an issue that is behind us,” he said.