Behind the Headlines: Strengthening U.s.-israeli Ties Now a Top Concern of U.S. Jewry

Stemming the deterioration of U.S.-Israeli relations, facilitating Israel’s absorption of immigrants, easing intergroup tensions and battling the erosion of church-state separation in America will be among the top priorities of Jewish communal agencies in this country over the next year, according to a policy blueprint released last week.

That document, known formally as the Joint Program Plan for Jewish Community Relations, is published each fall to provide policy guidelines to the 13 national Jewish agencies and 117 community relations councils that make up the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.

The Joint Program Plan provides an overview of American Jewry’s chief concerns, and the information it contains will shape the way these issues are addressed by the major organizations charged with acting on behalf of American Jews.

One of the strategic goals outlined in the 1991-92 Joint Program Plan urges the Jewish community to convey to the U.S. administration, Congress and other “influentials” its support of an undivided Jerusalem, giving “special emphasis to the fundamental right of all Israelis to live in all parts of the city of Jerusalem, while being sensitive to the traditional ethnic and religious character of the Old City’s neighborhoods.”

It was a controversial paragraph when it was hammered out eight months ago at NJCRAC’s plenum in Miami, where delegates debated the merits of using the word “Jews” instead of “Israelis,” and “while respecting” instead of “while being sensitive to.”

At the annual plenum, representatives of Jewish organizations from the religious to the secular, from the ultraconservative to the ultraliberal, from those representing broad constituencies to those representing narrow interest groups, gather to negotiate consensus positions on a range of international and domestic policy issues.

TAKING STANDS ON ISRAELI POLICIES

Arriving at positions on which the majority of delegates can agree is no easy task for Jews with such divergent views, as was illustrated in February by the long and passionate debates over several policy statements.

Another which prompted a great deal of debate encourages Jewish leaders to “communicate to the leaders and, where deemed appropriate, to the people of Israel, trends, particularly shifts in attitude, mood and reaction of the American public, American influentials and the American Jewish community, to events occurring in the Arab-Israeli conflict and to Israeli policies and actions.”

The controversy centered around a debate as old as the State of Israel itself: what the role of Diaspora Jews should be when it comes to decisions made by the government of Israel affecting the people of Israel.

Those who believe American Jewry has the moral right, even imperative, to let Israelis know what they think of Israeli actions and policies, argued passionately and ultimately prevailed against those who feel it is none of American Jews’ business to try to influence decisions that impact only Israelis directly.

Each of the positions taken by NJCRAC in the Joint Program Plan, and the priority that each is given, are reflections of the challenges facing American Jews at the time.

Last year, the fate of Soviet Jews in light of the dramatic changes in Eastern Europe was at the fore of concerns and was the first topic addressed in the Joint Program Plan. This year, that position is taken by Israel and the Middle East.

The first of the policies under the U.S.-Israel relations banner this year is to “strengthen the understanding among the American people of the difficult security issues facing Israel.”

The second is to “interpret to the administration, Congress and influentials that new relationships between the U.S. and the Arab states emerging from the Persian Gulf crisis should not be allowed to undermine the special alliance between the U.S. and Israel, based on common values, democracy and strategic considerations.”

SECTIONS ON ENVIRONMENT, CHILDREN

Last year and the year before, the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was addressed in the “Peace Process” section of the Program Plan. This year, the intifada has moved out of the headlines and off the list of American Jewry’s most pressing concerns, as catalogued in the Joint Program Plan.

The addition of several new domestic concerns to the list of those priorities this year underlines their importance to U.S. Jewry.

The environment gets its own chapter in the NJCRAC policy blueprint. It urges the encouragement of community recycling efforts and recommends that all Jewish agencies “adopt cost-effective internal conservation and environmental policies; and work within the Jewish community to heighten public awareness about environmental issues through education and advocacy.”

The Program Plan also for the first time contains a separate section on “Children at Risk.” Jewish community relations agencies are urged to “educate the community about problems faced by children in the U.S. and develop programs that reflect the urgency with which these and related issues should be addressed.”

College campuses, where some of the country’s most alarming anti-Semitic incidents have taken place recently, will be another focal point for community relations activities this year.

NJCRAC constituents are urged to “continue to monitor and assess anti-Semitism on campuses and widely implement workshops for Jewish students on confronting anti-Semitism.”

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