NEW YORK (Jun. 30)
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s recent statement that Yasser Arafat can pray in Jerusalem has been seconded by an umbrella group of American Jewish organizations.
Leaders of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council wrote Rabin on Wednesday to “convey our support” for granting Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, “the same privileges to pray in Jerusalem as any other Muslim.”
In spite of Rabin’s proclamation, Arafat did not seem poised to make the pilgrimage during his first visit to Gaza, scheduled to begin on Friday.
The letter from Lynn Lyss and Lawrence Rubin, NJCRAC’s chair and executive vice chairman respectively, is significant because it comes at a time when American Jewry’s support for an undivided Jerusalem threatens to conflict with its traditional support for the elected government of Israel.
Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert of the opposition Likud Party clearly believes the future of his city and the policies of Rabin’s Labor government are at odds.
Earlier this week Olmert pledged massive demonstrations to foil any Arafat visit, which he says would jeopardize the city’s status.
And he promised to bring in Diaspora demonstrators to join him, saying that he had already booked a jumbo jet from Canada for this purpose.
This call was greeted with some support by some American Jewish groups.
Malcolm Hoenlein, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said his organization had not been approached about joining the demonstrations, and declined to take a stand on the invitation.
Explaining the purpose of the NJCRAC letter at this time, Martin Raffel, director of NJCRAC’s Israel Task Force, said, “I’m sure there will be vocal opposition to Arafat’s coming to Jerusalem among certain segments of the American Jewish community, but we didn’t want that opposition to be interpreted as representing a majority of the American Jewish community.”
Lyss and Rubin of NJCRAC, in their letter, noted that their group, comprised of 13 national and 117 community Jewish agencies, had earlier in June adopted a statement emphasizing the commitment of world Jewry “to maintain the city of Jerusalem as the eternal undivided capital of Israel.”
But they said they agreed with Rabin that an attempt to bar Arafat would be inconsistent with his government’s efforts to normalize relations with the Palestinians, and would contradict “Israel’s exemplary record of maintaining open and unfettered access to the holy sites of all faiths.”
Instead, they wrote, the most appropriate response to Arafat and anyone else questioning the status of Jerusalem would be to “increase our efforts to educate American policy makers and the public about the unique status of Jerusalem in the life of Israel and world Jewry.”