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Jewish Community Planning Madison Square Garden Rally

American Jews are poised to demonstrate their solidarity with Israel at what is being billed as an apolitical rally at Madison Square Garden three weeks from now.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations clearly is trying to navigate a delicate path as it plans the event amid the minefield of peace process politics.

Acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres has accepted “in principle” an invitation to appear, according to Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the conference.

President Bill Clinton and Leah Rabin, the widow of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Israel’s chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yisrael Lau, also have been invited to the event, slated for Dec. 9 or 10.

The conference decided to organize the event as a memorial to Rabin and as “a demonstration of solidarity with the new government and people of Israel and the pursuit of peace,” and to unify the community, said Hoenlein.

The exact same wording was used by a source at the Israeli Consulate to describe the event, underscoring the sensitivities surrounding its planning.

“Everyone involved knows that unity is one of the goals of the event,” said the Israeli, who declined to be identified.

Hoenlein said the event is being carefully framed so that it is “acceptable to all segments of the community.”

Everyone “should be able to come and participate under this banner,” he said.

At the same time, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council is taking a more partisan stand by planning a peace process advocacy day in Washington for national leaders.

As for the rally, despite organizers’ best efforts to be inclusive, it was clear that bringing together the fragmented community would be a challenge.

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, and frequent critic of the Israeli government’s peace policies, this week said he had not yet decided whether to attend.

He said that for him and other mainstream critics, it would depend on the “message” the event and whether opposition parties are represented.

“We’re very worried” that if there is not broad based representation, “it will appear only one side is searching for peace,” Klein said.

Meanwhile, the consulate is clearly closely involved with the planning of the rally, but Hoenlein was eager to clarify that it is an American Jewish initiative.

American Jewish leadership has been under fire in recent weeks from some Israeli officials for not doing enough to show support for the government and the peace process in the months prior to Rabin’s assassination.

Hoenlein said the conference has planned other actions in the wake of Rabin’s death, including sending a delegation to Israel for the ceremonies marking the end of the 30-day mourning period.

A dialogue is also planned to find civil ways to express disagreements within the community, Hoenlein said.

Hoenlein also said he was trying to find a way to join the NJCRAC in its efforts in Washington “to show gratitude and appreciation to the president and members of Congress for their support for Israel and urge their continued support.”

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