BALTIMORE (Nov. 21)
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir made a strong appeal Thursday for North American Jews to unite behind the policies of his Likud government as moves ahead in the Middle East peace process.
Addressing thousands of delegates at the 60th annual General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations here, Shamir said, “Above all, we hope and expect our brothers and sisters of this great Jewish community to stand solidly with us in the critical days ahead.”
Sounding a theme reminiscent of U.S. President John Kennedy, Shamir said that when world Jewry is divided, it is like a “fragile reed. But when we are united, we are a powerful spiritual and moral force that is unbeatable.”
The “great Jewish community here in North America,” the prime minister said, “has always stood at our side and labored together with us for the good of our people.”
He later added, “I know that in seeking peace, the government of Israel can rely on the support of every Jew, wherever he may be.”
While the applause that resounded throughout the cavernous Baltimore Convention Center gave the impression that Shamir has already locked up that support, other signs have emerged in recent days to indicate that North American Jewish leaders are at odds with some of his government’s policies.
‘DIFFERENCES OF OPINION’
A survey released Wednesday by the Los Angeles-based Wilstein Institute of Jewish Policy Studies showed, that unlike the Shamir government, a vast majority of CJF board members support territorial compromise on Israel’s part in exchange for “credible guarantees for peace.”
It found they also overwhelmingly back a freeze on Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, especially if the alternative is forgoing $10 billion in U.S. loan guarantees Israel is seeking for immigrant resettlement.
Likewise, Americans for Peace Now on Thursday released an open letter to Shamir, signed by 235 rabbis from more than 75 cities, urging an immediate settlement freeze.
“Continued settlement activities are not only detrimental to the peace process, but also to the successful absorption of the new olim in Israel,” said the letter, which was delivered to the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
But Shoshana Cardin, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, suggested Thursday that the CJF and rabbinic leadership may be more open to the idea of a settlement freeze and territorial compromise than the bulk of North American Jewry.
Cardin, who does a lot of public speaking, said she rarely encounters calls from Jewish audiences for a settlement freeze. “I don’t hear that when I travel,” she said. But she acknowledged that there are “differences of opinion” on that subject among Jews here and in Israel.
Cardin and leaders of the Conference of Presidents met with Shamir immediately after his speech here. The prime minister then left for Washington for a late-afternoon meeting with Secretary of State James Baker.
Shamir meets Friday morning with President Bush, in a session that is expected to focus on the Middle East peace process.
Cardin said she expects an announcement from the Bush administration soon afterward on the location and timing of the next round of Middle East peace negotiations.
‘HUNGRY FOR PEACE’
In his speech to CJF leaders, Shamir restated his commitment to the peace process begun in Madrid. “We are hungry for peace. We passionately desire it. Israel desperately needs it,” he said.
But he also warned his listeners that “peace without security spells disaster for our state.”
“Not everybody understands our security needs,” the prime minister said. “We are often lectured by governments that would not themselves dream of relinquishing land acquired in war. Yet they tell us we should give up crucial areas gained in a defensive war, areas from which wars of annihilation were launched against us.”
Shamir seemed to be trying to convince his Diaspora listeners that Israel needs to retain the territories, not for ideological reasons, but because of security considerations.
The prime minister also lashed out twice at Egypt, accusing it of both attacking Israel’s immigration policy and failing to live up to the peace treaty it signed with Israel in 1979.
“I am sorry to say that to this day, Egypt has refused to fulfill many normalization agreements concluded 10 years ago and continues to oppose the abolition of the grotesque U.N. resolution equating Zionism with racism,” he said.
But on an upbeat note, Shamir recalled that the last time he addressed the CJF General Assembly, two years ago in Cincinnati, large-scale aliyah was still a dream.”
ALIYAH WAS ONLY A DREAM
“In the interim,” he said, “nearly 400,000 olim have entered Eretz Yisrael. We have registered a 10 percent increase in our population.
“By the time you meet three years from now,” he told the American and Canadian Jewish leaders, “we expect a total of 1 million refugees and immigrants will have entered Israel from all over the world.”
Shamir expressed hope that the Bush administration would soon approve guarantees enabling Israel to borrow $10 billion for immigrant resettlement from commercial banks.
Saying that Israelis “understand the present economic conditions of the United States,” Shamir stressed that Israel was not seeking “additional financial aid, or debt forgiveness or loans.”
“I still hope that, before long, the decision will be reviewed and we shall receive the cooperation we have requested,” he said.
“But one thing is clear: We shall not ask a single Jew in the Soviet Union, or Romania, or Ethiopia or elsewhere to wait until the loan guarantees are finally approved.
“Aliyah is a life-saving operation that should not be tied to any political issues,” he said to thunderous applause.