Behind the Headlines the Palpable Loneliness of Israeli Delegates at the Women’s Conference
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Behind the Headlines the Palpable Loneliness of Israeli Delegates at the Women’s Conference

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A disappointed and disenchanted Bernice Tannenbaum returned from the United Nations Decode for Women Conference in Copenhagen last month. “I was appalled by the bias of those in the chair, the secretariat, the United Nations special agencies, and by the lock of ordinary proper procedures,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview. Tannenboum, president of Hadassah; represented the World Jewish Congress as a non-governmental organization with consultative status of this international conference.

“I came (to the conference) hoping that it would not be politicized and we would talk about world issues,” but “the PLO was there in full force, they busted up whatever meeting they were not happy with” and “ostentatiously walked out in droves” whenever a member of the Israeli delegation spoke, continued Tannenboum.

The chairmen did not delegate equal time to snuff Arab propaganda leaving Jewish observers “seething because we were angry about what we were hearing and had to be passive,” explained Tannenboum.

Speaking on the isolation felt by the Israeli delegation Tannenboum said that “from the first meeting we sensed the palpable loneliness of the Israeli delegation” consisting of about 15 members. As Jewish leaders “our presence was vitally important in combatting that loneliness and injecting our voices into the forum. We provided that morale-building element which they needed so much. We created our own entity on the spot,” joined by many members of the U.S. delegation, to discuss how to stop the politization of the conference.

This group of Jewish leaders was headed by a steering committee — characterized by Tannenboum as a “little UN of Jewish women” — with two Americans and one representative each from Switzerland, Finland, Holland, England, France, Denmark and Canada.


The American delegation had a good relationship with the Jewish women, according to Tannenboum, and met with Jewish leaders for briefings almost every day. A cautious mood at the beginning of the conference was dispelled by directives from Washington to maintain a “firm stand on the question of Zionism and the fact that funds should not be channeled through the PLO,” continued Tannenboum.

“The fact that Israel is an ally of the U.S. was underscored by many of the delegates,” she said, praising the U.S. for remaining “absolutely firm to the very end.”

Jihan Sadat, wife of the Egyptian President, had several private meetings with Chava Hareli, Israel’s Ambassador to Norway, according to Tannenboum. “The Egyptians were warm and proper until Mrs. Sadat left” at which time they kept “a low profile,” she said. Despite Mrs. Sadat’s words on behalf of Israel, the official Egyptian delegation was directed to vote for adoption of the final “Plan of Action” with in condemnation of Israel.


Amid all the isolation, Tannenboum reported, “the Danish community was stalwart, both Jews and non-Jews.” Danes equate anti-Israel sentiment with anti-Semitism, a phenomenon with which they are not familiar, Tannenboum observed. To counter pro-PLO propaganda, about 100 Danes, Jews and non-Jews, demonstrated in front of the building housing the conference wearing yellow Stars of David on their arms, carrying Danish and Israeli flogs, and singing Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem. Within minutes they were joined by other conference delegates singing Israeli songs.


Despite the constant politization of the conference, there were some positive effects. According to Tannenboum, these include “the contact and interaction of women from different societies,” the “healing atmosphere of the Danish community,” and “the fact that the U.S. delegation was so firm in its commitments and ideals” in trying to redirect the conference towards its original goals.

When asked if the women’s conference attained the set goals, Tannenboum replied, “most delegations’ goals were not achieved” because “the agenda was turned around by the injection of these extraneous issues.” She added that the PLO, however, was “very successful” in achieving their goals because the PLO “did not come to talk about women; their goal was completely political.”

Tannenboum stated that there were those present at the conference who felt “there was no point in having another conference in five years” of the conclusion of the UN Decade for Women, and added regretfully, “I am not sure what purpose is served.”

(Tomorrow; Esther Landa, former president of the National Council of Jewish Women, who was part of the official U.S. delegation to the conference in Copenhagen.)

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