NEW YORK (Feb. 12)
A top American Jewish organizational leader plans to tell Israeli Prime Minster Yitzhak Shamir in Jerusalem this week that the American Jewish community is deeply disturbed by his move to bring the anti-Arab Moledet party into the Israeli government.
But some members of the influential Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations are questioning why the group, usually quick to issue statements backing Israel, shied away from making its displeasure public.
Shoshana Cardin, the new chairman of the conference, will relay the organization’s dismay to Shamir sometime during her visit to Israel, where she is currently attending a meeting of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors.
The decision to take this step was made during a closed-door meeting of the conference Feb. 5, according to participants.
Although the Conference of Presidents has at times expressed opposition to Israeli government policy, it is known to prefer private whispering over public statements on Israeli policies its member groups find problematic.
A few leaders of organizations within the umbrella group have expressed concern that by muting its disagreements with Israeli policy, the Conference of Presidents ends up looking like a puppet of the Israeli government, endangering its credibility both among Jews and others.
“Why are we keeping silent? Why are we hiding?” asked Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregation and a former chairman of the conference.
The Reform leader said he feels such an issue requires an outspoken response; otherwise silence might be taken for acquiescence.
SHOULDN’T BE SEEN AS A ‘PUPPET’
“No one in the Jewish community, and that includes the Conference of Presidents, should be seen merely as a puppet (of the Israeli government), because the effectiveness of the work is diminished when that happens,” said Schindler, who has issued his own statement deploring Shamir’s decision.
But some members of the conference argue that the conference’s reluctance to speak out publicly on Shamir’s move and other controversial issues is a reflection of the umbrella group’s internal structure.
The conference, they point out, operates by trying to reach a consensus among its many and disparate member groups, ranging from Orthodox organizations to ones with socialist outlooks.
These members say the conference should be applauded rather than criticized for being able to represent U.S. Jews with one voice, even if that voice is a quiet one.
Another factor in the conference’s decision was apparently timing. Many members reportedly felt that with Iraqi missiles raining down on Israel, this was not the proper time to criticize the Israeli government.
But others say Shamir’s decision to appoint Moledet party leader Rehavam Ze’evi to the Cabinet should have triggered a loud and angry response.
Ze’evi has advocated expelling the 1.5 million Palestinians in the administered territories as part of a negotiated peace settlement.