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Jewish Leaders Get a Firsthand Look at Rabin Government’s New Priorities

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in his only public address before a Jewish group on his inaugural visit to the United States, played down both his disagreements, and his agreements, with President Bush.

He said little about loan guarantees. And while he said that the United States and Israel must inevitably agree to disagree on many issues, he did not specifically mention his reported dispute with the president over the possible sale of F-15 aircraft to Saudi Arabia and his evaluation of Syria’s unwillingness to make peace.

Instead, he laid out his government’s priorities, stressed the mandate given to him by Israeli voters and gave 400 Jewish organizational leaders an opportunity to hear Jerusalem’s new tone for themselves. The gathering was hosted by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Rabin emphasized that the fall of the Soviet Union created “great opportunities, but there are still many dangers.”

For the first time since 1955, he said, Arab states lack their traditional umbrella. As a result of that, and the U.S.-led war against Iraq, Israel faces a period with little risk of Arab attack.

“We must exploit the coming two to five years in two directions: To reach, at last, a degree of peacemaking process with our Arab neighbors and the Palestinians in the territories, and to strengthen Israeli society and economy, to bring more Jews from the former Soviet Union who are waiting to come and find jobs in Israel.”

“We want to give a real chance to peace,” he said. As to what extent there will be a resolution or a peaceful settlement, “only the future will decide,” he said.

URGES LESS TALK ABOUT POLLARD

Rabin carefully avoided criticizing Syria by name, instead referring to “one of our neighbors” when discussing countries that may in the future attack Israel, a group which also includes Iran, Libya and Iraq.

And when asked about the U.S.-Israel strategic alliance, he cautioned that “we are not the only first-born son of the U.S. in the region.”

“Let’s start to get rid of the perception that the whole world is against us,” he added. “We have friends in many countries, not just the United States.”

In response to a question shouted by Rabbi Avraham Weiss about Jonathan Pollard, who has served seven years in prison for spying on behalf of Israel, Rabin said that “the less there will be talking about it, the better it will be for his freedom.”

Weiss, one of the leaders of the campaign for Pollard, said afterward that a senior Israeli official did raise the issue with a senior American official this week, but that what is needed is for Rabin to confront Bush directly.

The Conference of Presidents gathering was Rabin’s only public meeting with an American Jewish group.

He met earlier in the day with four top officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and talked privately with Shoshana Cardin, chairman of the Conference of Presidents, and Malcolm Hoenlein, its executive director.

A dinner meeting was planned with leadership of the United Jewish Appeal. And Rabin met earlier in the week with leadership of the State of Israel Bonds Organization.

His appointments also included a discussion with George Klein, a prominent Jewish Republican.

But the most telling meetings were those held last weekend with Robert Lifton, president of the American Jewish Congress, who is reported to have financially supported the Labor Party in the last election, and then a broader meeting including six AJCongress leaders.

“It’s an indication of the friendship that exists between the present government of Israel and the American Jewish Congress,” said Henry Siegman, the agency’s executive director.

That, he said, is a dramatic contrast to the Shamir government, which, recognizing its disagreements with the AJCongress, would not have singled out the organization for a meeting.

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