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At the CJF General Assembly Peres Appeals for ‘civilized Way’ to Deal with Religious Differences Amo

November 18, 1986
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An appeal to the Jewish people to avoid a split within its ranks over religious and secular issues was issued here by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. He urged that "a civilized way be found to deal with religious differences" that have become exacerbated in Israel and the United States.

Addressing more than 3,000 Jewish leaders from North America and abroad at the 55th General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations here, Peres said that Jewish life is marked by variations, with different strains and different beliefs between and among the religious and secular elements in Israel and the U.S. The variations, he said, do not worry him. But, he added, "I am worried about our unity. Let’s be careful not to spit. We are too small a people to become two or three people instead of one."

Peres declared: "I call upon everybody, let’s argue without hate; let’s decide our positions and listen to one another, among your synagogues and between the religious and secular."

The Foreign Minister’s remarks were in keeping with the General Assembly theme of Klal Yisrael, the pursuit of unity in the midst of diversity and the coexistence of diversity for the sake of unity. His remarks were also made against a backdrop of discord and disharmony between the Orthodox on the one side and the Reform and Conservative movements on the other over numerous issues of halacha (Jewish law), and the restriction imposed on the Conservative and Reform movements in Israel by the Orthodox establishment.

Peres, whose remarks on the imperative need for Jewish unity were greeted by prolonged applause, said, "I think it is for you and for us to mobilize good will, to call upon the heads of each strain to see the need for Klal Yisrael, not just the conviction of each synagogue, important as it may be, and to find the necessary wisdom and patience and talent to have our arguments in a way that won’t split us to pieces."


Speaking of another kind of unity, Peres focused on the relations between the United States and Israel. He said the two countries are in "an era of cooperation like never before and with nobody else. We are not afraid of the greatness of the United States and the United States is not worried about the smallness of Israel." He did not specify the areas of cooperation nor did he allude to reports about Israel’s cooperation with the U.S. in sending arms to Iran.

He said Israel was very proud of the fact that the U.S. recently recognized Israel "by a very special name, and I shall pronounce it very clearly– a non-NATO ally." But Peres explained that Israel is essentially different than America’s European allies in a number of ways.

"We do not ask the American army to protect our land or our skies," he asserted. "We shall do that ourselves. We are allies because we are not reluctant, we are not shy or apologetic in our relations with the U.S. American equipment, up to a point. Israeli risk, when necessary. Definitely, a non-Nato situation."


Another kind of unity stressed by Peres was international cooperation to fight terrorism on a global scale. "The real danger which innocent people and nations of goodwill are facing is not so much full-fledged wars run by armies but the terrible criminal violence of terror," he said. "I think in many ways Israel was forced to be the first to confront it and the U.S. the second."

Terrorism, Peres said, must be curbed if the peace process in the Middle East is to continue. He said that Israel and the U.S. can help bring peace to the Mideast for all the people. "Our enemies are not Arabs, Moslems or Christians. Our enemies are hostility, belligerency and war," Peres declared.

He said that "an international involvement is also necessary in order to stop terrorism. The cost of terror from the point of view of its victims is high. But terror also affects the Arab world itself. Leaders are frightened to death because of the continuous threat to their lives, from the level of mayors to the heads of state. They cannot make the right choice. They cannot select the necessary policies in order to save themselves from the terrible expense of military preparedness and the ongoing danger of a new war. Unless terrorism is fought, peace will not happen at all."

Peres urged the nations of Europe, especially West Germany as well as Japan, whose gross national products have increased steeply over the past few years and whose economies are well organized and viable, to help the Arabs economically.

"The economic situation of some of the Arab countries became so dramatic that their own governments, their own systems are in real danger, and unless real help is offered the danger will be augmented and the road to peace will be impeded," he declared.

But, Peres emphasized, while international cooperation is necessary to combat terrorism and to help stabilize the economies of Arab countries, the international community cannot impose solutions on the Arabs and Israel. "No imposed solution will be a success. The road to peace is through free negotiations between Israel and her Arab neighbors," he said.


Israel is intent on pursuing peace, Peres said, and has proved this in relation to Egypt and its ongoing efforts with Jordan. "Israel is strong enough to defend itself and is strong enough to go and negotiate peace with our neighbors," he stated. "We have won all the wars that have been forced upon us. We have decided this time to win a peace."

The world, Peres observed, "is convinced that Israel is sincere in trying to halt the dispute between the Arabs and ourselves, peacefully, diplomatically." One of the consequences of this, he noted, is that it "helps create a climate of support for the peace process in the United States among the people and in Congress."

Israel, Peres continued, has moved in the direction of bringing peace to the Mideast without the help of the United Nations. The war with Lebanon has come to an end, the dispute with Egypt over Taba has been settled, Arab mayors have been given increasing authority to run their own municipalities in the West Bank, and a Jordanian bank has been allowed to open in the West Bank. "Terror has subsided in the West Bank," Peres observed. "There is 50 percent less terror this year than the preceding year."

Meanwhile Israel internally still faces some problems. Peres said there is "no sense in covering up the divisiveness in Israel between Sephardim and Ashkenazim, between religious and secular groups and between religious groups themselves as well and between the secular groups as well, and the Arabs in Israel who do not get a feeling of equality." But, he added, "I have a feeling that the ethnic divisiveness is diminishing. A great thing has happened. Both the Ashkenazim and Sephardim have begun to feel Jewish. They have a greater feeling of equality. We are correcting some mistakes regarding the Arab minority. We are implementing the things we demanded when we were minorities."

Peres also listed some other achievements in Israel, including a balanced budget, a halt to inflation, increased foreign trade and a decreased trade deficit, the absorption of 16,000 Ethiopian Jews who came to Israel under Operation Moses, and the ongoing rehabilitation of impoverished neighborhoods under Project Renewal. The next task for Israel internally is to settle the Negev, "the last frontier of Israel," as Peres put it, and to make the desert bloom in line with the vision of David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister. The centennial of his birth is being celebrated this year.


Earlier in the day Thursday, Peres addressed some 5,000 people at a noontime rally for Soviet Jewry. The Foreign Ministry told the participants who braved freezing weather, that the fight for Soviet Jews is "not a fight with Russia, not out of hatred. We are a peaceful people. The struggle is for the right to be a people with our own tradition who want to be able to pray to the Lord, educate our children in our culture and live a Jewish life." He called the effort "the moral struggle of our time," a struggle "that we shall win."

Chicago Mayor Harold Washington echoed that view in his remarks at the rally. He said "this is a moral struggle in which there are no neutrals. We choose to stand for the right of Soviet Jews to practice their own religion without fear of repression or reprisal and for those who choose to leave to be allowed to do so."

Eloquent appeals on behalf of Soviet Jewry were also made by Raymond Epstein, chairman and former president of the CJF; Morris Abram, president of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry; Alexander Kushnir, a refusenik recently allowed to emigrate after a 10-year battle; and Pamela Cohen, president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry.

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