Menu JTA Search

Sharon, Peres and Singer Outline Their Visions of World Jewry’s Role

Israel is a “worldwide Jewish project” — and Jews everywhere must pitch in to keep Jerusalem “a united and undivided city forever, with the Temple Mount, the holiest place for the Jewish people, in its center,” Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told leaders of the World Jewish Congress.

“We need you,” Sharon told delegates to the WJC’s annual plenary, who came to the Knesset on Wednesday. “What goes on is as much your responsibility as ours.”

Israel’s security is bound up with the security of Jews everywhere, he said.

“Don’t expect if, God forbid, Israel will be weakened, that you will be able to lead the life you lead now,” Sharon warned. “Not for one minute.”

Also at the Knesset, WJC President Edgar Bronfman presented the Nachum Goldmann Award to Stuart Eizenstat, a former U.S. undersecretary of state, for his work in furthering the cause of Holocaust restitution and reparations to survivors and their heirs.

Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told the group that U.S.-Israel relations remain strong, despite tensions since the Sept. 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington.

Referring to U.S. demands that Israel take steps to reduce friction with the Palestinian Authority, Peres said, “We have asked the United States for so many things over the years, and nobody called it pressure. I think it is not pressure if the United States asks us to help in the first phase of the confrontation with terror.”

The secretary-general of the WJC, Israel Singer, outlined the group’s agenda for the coming years. High on the list is distribution of some $5 billion to $10 billion in Holocaust restitution funds to survivors and their heirs, followed by the use of unclaimed funds to promote Jewish education worldwide.

Additional priorities include:

Supporting the security needs of Jewish communities worldwide;

Establishing dialogue with moderate Islamic leaders;

Continuing to pressure the Vatican to release documents related to World War II;

Trying to undo damage done to Israel’s image at September’s U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.

He said Jewish organizations needed to do a better job of presenting themselves, and should consult experts such as filmmaker Steven Spielberg for advice.

“We can’t go back to ads in newspapers. We have to be in the articles and on TV,” Singer said.

When it comes to safety, large Jewish communities may have greater needs than smaller ones, he said.

“New York City has 5,780 Jewish centers and there are only 10,000 police on duty at any one time,” he said, noting that the WJC will help devise new means of security for Jews and their venues.

Singer added: “We are not going to be vigilantes, we are not going to walk around with guns to defend ourselves. That philosophy was rejected by Jews in the 1950s and ’60s and ’70s,” he said. “We are not fascists, but we will not be cannon fodder.”

NEXT STORY