A preliminary reading of the professional pulse-takers of the American Jewish community shows a divided diagnosis of Israel’s deteriorating image abroad.
At the opening session Sunday of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council 44th annual plenary session here, some delegates said Israel’s handling of Arab stone throwers in the Gaza Strip and West Bank harmed its image.
Others blamed what they called the distorted picture presented by the American news media.
Some 450 lay and professional leaders, representing NJCRAC’s 113 local and 11 national agencies dealing with Jewish community relations throughout the United States, were on hand for the lively exchanges.
Plenary speaker Dr. Yossi Beilin, political director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry and an influential adviser to Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, was less concerned with the image than the substance of Israel’s policy.
He said the confrontations in the territories have forced both the United States and Israel to return the Palestinian problem back atop their agendas.
He said both countries, facing national elections this year, would have been content to maintain the status quo.
Beilin attributed the new Arab militancy in the territories to differing attitudes between generations.
“The older generation (of Arabs) could compare the occupation under Israel to that under Egypt or Jordan, which were worse,” said Beilin.
The rock-throwing teen-agers, on the other hand, “compare Gaza and the West Bank to Tel Aviv and Haifa,” he said.
Session moderator Burton Levinson, national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, complained that he was “sick and tired of American Jews who take their case (against Israeli policy) to the general press. Too many Americans believe that this debate (among American Jews) is a sign of disunity.”
On the brighter side, Levinson reported that an ADL poll taken in late January showed that support for Israel among Americans in general was as high as ever.
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In some lively statements from the floor, a woman from Palm Beach, Fla., urged that all Israeli leaders attend an intensive course in public relations.
Beilin responded by saying Israeli leaders are aware of the image problems abroad, but added that “this is not a (public relations) question, we must solve real political problems.”
Beilin was to have been joined at the session by Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, but at the last moment he was called for consultation by Secretary of State George Shultz.
The four-day plenary session will end Wednesday noon, after workshops and forums on AIDS, anti-Semitism, South Africa, black-Jewish relations, cults, Soviet Jewry, religious pluralism in Israel and other domestic and international issues.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.