PHOENIX (Feb. 21)
In an effort to avoid a potentially divisive debate here Wednesday, the American Jewish Congress agreed to withdraw two controversial amendments to a Middle East policy statement being drafted by the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.
The amendments, distributed in draft form to the more than 400 delegates at NJCRAC’s annual plenary session here, would have affirmed that “many within the Jewish community” believe a “two-state solution is the best solution” to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The amendments also would have “expressed concern’” to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir that his statements “rejecting the concept of land for peace appear to rule out sovereignty of any kind” to the Palestinian people living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242.
The NJCRAC Joint Program Plan, the organization’s blueprint for national advocacy and activism, to be formally approved in April, will instead include a passage reaffirming its support of Resolution 242.
The AJCongress decision to withdraw the amendments was seen as a victory for those delegates who believed a show of unity with Israel was more important than a statement of the deep disagreements that exist among the 13 national Jewish agencies and 117 Jewish community councils under the NJCRAC umbrella.
The spirit of (unity) was evident,” said Maynard Wishner, chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Chicago and chairman of the NJCRAC Israel Task Force.
“There is not argument that there is diversity of opinion,” he said. “But umbrella organizations which are tempted to separate on bare majorities can stop being umbrellas very soon.”
David Peleg, minister of information at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said here that he was satisfied that “those suggested amendments were withdrawn.”
“I think that this conference this morning sent a clear message,” said Peleg, who attended most of the four-day conference. “The fact that (the amendments) were withdrawn shows that (those views) do not enjoy the support of the majority.”
CONCERN ABOUT VOICING DISSENT
But according to a delegate who supported AJCongress in submitting the amendments, the withdrawal suggested just the opposite.
“To press each resolution at some point becomes counterproductive,” said David Saperstein, Washington representative of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
“But we have a strong feeling that our concern that U.N. Resolution 242 continues to endorse land for peace was strongly made at the conference,” he said.
Intensive media coverage in Israel of the NJCRAC deliberations “made us feel confident that the concerns of the American Jewish public are being heard in Israel,” said Saperstein.
Concern here about sending messages of dissent from Israeli policy intensified after a rancorous debate here Monday on the potential settlement of Soviet Jewish immigrants in the West Bank.
Representatives of AJCongress, UAHC, and, to a lesser extent, the National Council of Jewish Women and the American Jewish Committee, led efforts to express the view that American Jews do not support the building of housing for Soviet Jews in the administered territories.
But in a letter distributed to delegates, leaders of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith warned that “the twin problems of the peace process and absorbing Soviet Jews are difficult enough without the people of Israel looking over their shoulders, wondering where their traditional supporters” are heading.
TWO RESOLUTIONS ON PLO DIALOGUE
In other action, NJCRAC delegates:
* Agreed to send all members of Congress letters urging support for sustaining the current level of U.S. aid to Israel in the 1991 fiscal year.
* Approved wording of a resolution that would “encourage” the Bush administration to use its dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization to “explore all possibilities for reducing tension and advancing prospects for a peaceful resolution” to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
* Rejected a suggestion by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America that the United States end it dialogue with the PLO unless it “formally abrogates those sections of (its) covenant that call for Israel’s destruction and takes the lead in ending the uprising in the administered territories.”
* Informed Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford that NJCRAC would not hold further meetings in her state until it passes a law upholding state observance of the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
(Washington Jewish Week staff writer Andrew Silow Carroll contributed to this report.)