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One Israeli Addresses Arab Group and Another Decides Not to Show

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The once-extraordinary sight of an Israeli Cabinet minister addressing assembled Arab Americans is becoming almost surrealistically routine these days.

Two weeks ago, it was Israeli Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer addressing a joint group of top Jewish and Arab American organizational officials.

And last week, Health Minister Haim Ramon addressed the annual convention of the National Association of Arab Americans, one of the major Arab American lobbying groups.

But another Israeli official who was scheduled to appear before the group, Ambassador Itamar Rabinovich, did not show up, and conflicting explanations were given for his decision.

In his speech, Ramon spoke of a “new era” and pointed out that this was the first appearance by an Israeli minister before the NAAA.

Ramon, who spoke last Friday on a panel with Egypt’s ambassador to Washington, Ahmed Maher el-Sayed, received applause from the crowd assembled for the lunchtime session.

He urged the Arab Americans to remember that not only Palestinians have a “public opinion” that needs to be placated and satisfied.

“We also have public opinion in Israel,” he said, and “without the support of public opinion we cannot make progress in the peace process.”

Ramon also urged an end to the Arab economic boycott of Israel, specifically the secondary boycott of companies doing business with Israel.

After discussing various problems along the route to peace, including the continuing stalemate on the Israeli-Syrian negotiating track, the Israeli Cabinet minister spoke of his hopes for the Middle East.

He said the Israeli people were beginning to feel the stirrings of a new era in the region. Since the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian autonomy agreement in September, he said, Israelis have been returning to the restaurants they once frequented in heavily Arab eastern Jerusalem but had abandoned in recent years.

ADL ‘DELIGHTED’ WITH NO-SHOW

Rabinovich, who is Israel’s ambassador to Washington, was to have addressed the group as part of a separate panel last Friday, along with the Jordanian ambassador to Washington, Fayez Tarawneh. But neither ambassador appeared.

Rumors floating around the convention suggested that Rabinovich had been dissuaded from coming by Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

The ADL is currently the subject of a lawsuit by the NAAA and other groups, who are charging that ADL spied on them.

Foxman said in an interview that while he would not deny having called Rabinovich, he had not told the ambassador what to do nor urged him not to attend the convention.

“Israel is a sovereign state, and they make decisions to whom they speak,” Foxman said.

On the other hand, Foxman said he was delighted Rabinovich had not addressed the NAAA.

He said that some in the Arab American community were “speaking from two sides of their mouths,” offering friendship with one hand while bringing lawsuits with the other.

One Israeli Embassy official did not deny the rumors about ADL trying to dissuade the ambassador from coming.

But other Israeli officials said it would be both wrong and misleading to link the ambassador’s failure to appear with the ADL lawsuit.

These officials explained that Rabinovich had to cancel because Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s upcoming visit to the United States had just been advanced, from around Nov. 20 to around Nov. 12, and the ambassador was busy with meetings to prepare for the visit.

In addition, the officials said, Ramon was present at the convention as a high-level Israeli representative.

The officials added that they were not happy with the NAAA’s position in the ADL lawsuit, and that had Rabinovich spoken at the convention, he would have addressed the issue.

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