As many as 19,000 people are hoped for at the Israel solidarity rally planned for Madison Square Garden on the morning of Dec. 10.
Slated to appear are Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Israeli Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yisrael Lau, and Leah Rabin, widow of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
The date had been held open for President Clinton, who reportedly said he would like to attend, but had scheduling problems. Nonetheless, organizers decided on the 10th, saying that “a top administration official” would be present.
The rally is intended to be show of unity by a American Jewish community whose fractures have only intensified in the wake of the Rabin assassination.
Organizers have carefully framed the event with language that steers painstakingly clear of partisan politics over the peace process in an effort to be inclusive.
It will be a “demonstration of solidarity with the new government and people of Israel and the pursuit of peace,” said Malcolm Hoenlien, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
But not everyone is buying the unity line. Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, has said the rally will be “divisive if different views on peace are excluded.”
The ZOA, a vocal critic of aspects of a peace process, has urged the organizers “to promote healing and unity” by broadening the participants to include members of the Israeli opposition.
But Leon Levy, chairman of the Presidents Conference, said he told Klein that the event “is not a political rally with a political point of view. It is a rally for unity.”
“We look at Shimon Peres as the head of the government, not as voicing the position of the Labor Party,” he said. “The place for debate is the Knesset and not Madison Square Garden.”
The conference, the World Jewish Congress, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York are convening the event.
Conference officials said a major contribution would be made by WJC President Edgar Bronfman, with contributions of up to $25,000 apiece by some of the conference’s member-organizations. For their part, WJC sources would only say there was an agreement by the co-conveners to share responsibility for the entire event.
Sources say the cost could run to roughly $400,000.
Meanwhile, a delegation of the Conference of Presidents and others Jewish leadership are planning to fly to Israel Dec. 3 to mark the 30th day of mourning for Rabin and to meet with Peres and other members of the new Israeli government.