Israeli Urges ‘profound Dialogue’ with U.S. Jews over Peace Process

A high-level official of the Israeli government is calling for a “profound dialogue” between Israel and American Jewry to resolve recent tensions between the two sides over American Jewish support for the Labor government’s stance in the Middle East peace process.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin spoke of the need for such a dialogue — involving both the American Jewish leadership and the grass roots — at a meeting here Thursday of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Beilin addressed the Conference of Presidents immediately after meeting here with U.N. Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali.

Beilin later described their meeting as “not simple.” He said he criticized the U.N. chief for his condemnation of Israel’s recent “Operation Accountability” in southern Lebanon. Beilin said he invited the secretary-general to visit Israel to see for himself the conditions that force Israel to combat attacks along its northern border.

Boutros-Ghali reportedly did not respond to the invitation.

Beilin also met Thursday with the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Yuli Vorontsov. They discussed the peace process and U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher’s recent visit to the region.

Israeli government officials have recently made known their dissatisfaction with American Jewish leaders’ lack of support for their efforts in the peace process.

A few weeks ago, Beilin himself blasted American Jewish organizations as right wing and said they were not representative of the more moderate, pragmatic views that most American Jews hold.

At Thursday’s meeting with the Conference of Presidents, Beilin clarified his remarks by saying that American Jewish groups have earned a reputation with the U.S. administration and the United Nations as “rightist organizations.”

They are perceived as “fighting organizations,” because they focus on opposing American efforts to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, for instance, rather than working in a more positive way for peace, he said.

‘BLIND FOLLOWING’ IS A MISTAKE

American Jewish organizations should not serve as “an embassy of Israel,” Beilin told the conference. “A blind following of any (Israeli) government of the day is a mistake.”

“American Jewry is entitled to express its views separately and collectively,” he said.

In fact, American Jewish groups have been quite vocal lately in expressing their views on the Middle East peace process, and they are not always in accord with the Israeli government’s stance.

Earlier this week, a coalition of American Jewish groups opposed to trading land for peace launched a campaign to “redirect” the Middle East peace process.

The Coalition for Israel, as it is called, is sponsoring a petition drive to convince the Israeli government to hold a national referendum before it agrees to any territorial concessions in the peace process.

Apparently in response to this campaign, the dovish group Project Nishma issued a statement Thursday, signed by more than 100 prominent Jews, lauding the peacemaking efforts of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Clinton administration.

It ran as a full-page advertisement in several American Jewish and Israeli newspapers.

Among those signing onto the statement were Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations; Alfred Moses, president of the American Jewish Committee; Robert Lifton, president of the American Jewish Congress; and Rabbi Irving Greenberg of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

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