The American Jewish community should continue in its efforts to strengthen U.S.-Israeli ties, but should do so in a “positive way,” Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Monday.
Addressing the 36th biennial convention of B’nai B’rith International via satellite, Rabin appeared to be trying to dispel the impression that he is upset with the American Jewish community at large.
That impression arose during the prime minister’s visit to the United States last month, during which he criticized the tactics used by American Jewish groups in lobbying the Bush administration for the loan guarantee package sought by Israel.
He said at the time that differences between the U.S. and Israeli governments should be managed in Jerusalem rather than by American Jewish officials.
Asked after his speech Monday to clarify his stand on the advocacy role of American Jewish groups on behalf of Israel, Rabin said he has learned to “appreciate and admire the devotion of the Jewish community in the United States.”
He said his U.S. remarks were made “in relationship to one organization and not to the Jewish community of the United States” as a whole.
The organization Rabin referred to is widely believed to be AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, whose leaders met with Rabin in mid-August. It was reported then that Rabin sharply criticized AIPAC for straining U.S.- Israeli ties over the loan guarantee issue.
But his apparent attempt Monday to put the blame on AIPAC specifically did not mollify some American Jewish organizational leaders, among them Seymour Reich, immediate past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“I’m bewildered by why he persists in singling out AIPAC. He’s going to undermine one of the most effective instruments of the American Jewish community,” said Reich.
“He’s lost an opportunity to put this issue to rest,” the Jewish leader said. “Instead, he inflamed it.”
Daniel Mariaschin, director of international and government affairs for B’nai B’rith, was less concerned by Rabin’s remarks on this topic.
“The traditional relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community will continue as it has the last number of decades,” he said. “I don’t foresee any drastic new directions in the relationship.”
Rabin’s speech, which was followed by questions posed by B’nai B’rith President Kent Schiner, focused mainly on the Middle East peace talks.
The prime minister said that the latest round of negotiations in Washington, which recessed Sept. 3, had left him feeling optimistic though cautious.
“I believe the atmosphere has changed,” he said. “We are hopeful, but we don’t even know the obstacles that still lie ahead in our effort to start the peacemaking process.”
Concerning Syria, Rabin reiterated that Israel is willing to accept the applicability of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 to the disputed Golan Heights, a position his predecessor, Yitzhak Shamir, refused to take. The resolutions call for the return of land seized by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967, in exchange for peace.
But the prime minister complained that Syria was not yet interested in discussing a “full peace” with Israel.
“Even for a total withdrawal from the Golan Heights, they are ready only for a peace agreement, but not for a normalized relationship – not a peace treaty, not open boundaries, not embassies, not a commercial and cultural relationship,” he said.
Rabin also contended that Israel had advanced the negotiations with the Palestinians by proposing a comprehensive autonomy plan in the administered territories, with Palestinian elections to take place as early as next April.
The convention delegates were generally optimistic about the improved chances for peace, according to Mariaschin of B’nai B’rith. “Even among the cynics and skeptics among us, there is a sense coming out of the talks that even though there’s a long road ahead, there is cause for optimism,” he said.