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U.S. Jewish Group Lobbies Dozens of World Leaders at United Nations

October 15, 1998
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At the beginning of this year’s United Nations General Assembly, the American Jewish Committee packed its schedule with diplomatic dialogues, meeting with the prime minister of India and foreign ministers from 48 other countries.

Discussion topics ranged from the ramifications of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat declaring a Palestinian state on May 4, 1999, to issues having to do with Holocaust-era assets to increased Israeli participation in the world body.

While other Jewish organizations hold similar meetings, none do so as extensively as the AJCommittee.

“We have been told that the State Department ranks us second to the secretary of state in terms of the breadth of our diplomatic outreach efforts,” said David Harris, AJCommittee’s executive director.

In many of the meetings, the AJCommittee invites other Jewish groups to participate — the National Conference on Soviet Jewry took part in meetings with the former Soviet states and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany attended the meetings with European countries regarding residual Holocaust concerns.

Harris and Jason Isaacson, the director of government and international affairs for the AJC — which is one of several Jewish non-governmental organizations associated with the world body — also met with representatives from countries involved in regional conflicts, such as Armenia and Azerbaijan, Croatia and Bosnia, and Greece, Turkey and Cyprus.

Not all the meetings went well. Isaacson described the meeting with the foreign minister of Yugoslavia regarding human rights as “cold.”

Some countries — the former Soviet republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus, for example — wanted the meetings because of what they perceive as the power of the Jewish community in lobbying Washington.

“Countries, in meeting with us, feel that they are creating a conduit or vehicle for reaching” the American government.

Garnering greater U.N. support for Israel was a common denominator in all of the AJCommittee’s meetings, which included nations in Asia and Latin America, nine Arab countries and more than half of the 15-member European Union.

“The European Union’s stance is crucial, not just in its own right, but in shaping the approach to the Middle East. Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asian countries look to the E.U. for leadership very often,” Harris said.

A key issue on this year’s agenda of the AJCommitee and other Jewish NGO’s, is Israel’s admittance into the Western European and Others Group, one of five regional groups at the United Nations.

Israel is the only country out of the 185 in the United Nations that cannot participate in these regional groupings.

Membership is essential to a country’s participation in the U.N. Security Council.

“The Security Council has five permanent members, ten non-permanent members and one permanent non-member — Israel,” observed Harris Schoenberg, the director of U.N. affairs for B’nai Brith International, which also is urging countries to reconsider Israel’s status.

Geographically, Israel is part of the Asian group, but Arab members of that section have proven an obstacle for entry. Israel has applied temporarily to the WEO group, but diplomatic and procedural red tape have isolated Israel as the only state to be denied entry to a regional group.

The AJCommittee this year launched a mail campaign lobbying the present and two past presidents of the E.U. — the United Kingdom, Germany and Austria — for their aid in gaining admission to the European grouping.

And while the effort may not bring a speedy resolution to the issue, it has definitely gotten the attention of those nations’ diplomatic corps.

Thousands of letters and mail-in coupons from newspaper advertisements have inundated embassy desks.

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