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Navon Urges Jews to Have More Children to Counter Danger of Low Birth Rate and Assimilation

January 20, 1981
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President Yitzhak Navon last night called on Jews throughout the world to have more children. He spoke at the seventh plenary assembly of the World Jewish Congress which today elected Edgar Bronfman, of New York, as its president succeeding Philip klutznick.

Navon, speaking at the opening session last night, warned that world Jewry was endangered by a low birth rate and assimilation. He said that unless the birth rate was increased there would be less than 8 million Jews left in the non-Communist world by the end of the century.

The birth rate was declining in Israel too, except among the Orthodox, Navon noted. But he said the situation is better in Israel than in the diaspora. He noted that Israel has 23 percent of the world’s Jewish population but 40 percent of the Jewish children in the world. Navon also urged the WJC to “establish a dialogue” with Islam in order to foster better world understanding between the two religions.

The plenary assembly, the WJC’s first in six years, brings together some 500 Jewish leaders from 60 countries, including delegates from Poland, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Rumania.

One issue that is expected to be the focus of attention is the rising anti-Semitism in Europe, South America and the United States. Attention will also be placed on relations with Islam and Christianity, the situation of Jews in the Soviet Union and the Arab countries, and the threat to Jewish survival of intermarriage and assimilation.


In a keynote address to the assembly last night, Bronfman said the influence of Jews on the policies of Western governments was becoming “less effective.” In the United States, Americans continue to admire and respect Israel as the lone democracy in hostile surroundings and the new Reagan Administration “will no doubt strive to maintain Israel’s strength and security,” Bronfman said. “But it will probably view Israel as only one important factor in the global East-West struggle.”

In an obliquely critical comment on Israel’s troubled political situation, Bronfman noted that Israel has “too much politics and not enough leaders.” But he spoke warmly of Israel’s “ingenuity and valor,” saying that every Jew everywhere “takes pride in Israel’s accomplishments.”

Listing inflation, emigration and ethnic problems, Bronfman said that Israel at 33 “already has entered its “mid life crisis” even though it is still a young state. “Even as we Americans, British and Eastern Europeans are struggling with our systems, so, too, is Israel,” he said. Still, he added, he drew encouragement from a recent conversation with the Orthodox scholar Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik of Boston who had urged “We must relearn to be Jews whose strength and idealism can be a leading force in societies wherever Jews live.”

Bronfman assumes the WJC presidency after being acting president since Klutznick became Secretary of Commerce in President Carter’s Cabinet last year. Klutznick’s long time predecessor at the helm of the WJC, Dr. Nahum Goldmann is not attending the assembly.


Another speaker last night was former U.S. Sen. Jacob Javits (R. NY) who urged the Reagan Administration to “resist the blandishments of Western Europe” and “remain constant to the Camp David peace process and the Israel-Egypt peace treaty.”

Javits decried Western European “efforts to bring about a Mideast settlement that would make Israel’s security heavily dependent on guarantees from other countries and that would accept the ultimate establishment of a Palestinian state on Israel’s borders. Short term gains and fancied favors from Arab oil exporters will turn into long term disasters if Camp David is derailed.”

A highlight of last night’s opening ceremony at the Binyanei Ha’ooma Convention Hall was the presentation of an award from the WJC to Zubin Mehta, the long time musical director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra who is also director of the New York Philharmonic. Mehta, a non-Jew born in India, stressed the orchestra’s role as a goodwill emissary on behalf of the Jewish State. Earlier, he led the orchestra in a performance for the WJC.

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