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Begin Urges American Jews to Oppose Arms for Arabs

June 30, 1980
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The week-long meeting of the Zionist General Council, placid and routine for the most part, ended Thursday with on impassioned appeal by Premier Menachem Begin to American Jews to fight Carter Administration plans to sell advanced weaponry to Jordan and Saudi Arabia and a bitter, jarring debate over Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank.

Begin, who delivered the closing address Thursday night, said Israel was deeply concerned by Saudi Arabia’s demand for sophisticated equipment that would enable its F-15 combat jets to attack targets in Israel and also by the American intentions to provide Jordan with modern M-60 tanks. There has been no American decision so for on the Saudi request which includes extra fuel tanks to increase the F-15 operational range.

Begin warned that if the Saudi planes are so equipped, they could wreak havoc on Israel’s population in case of war. “We would shoot down many of them but you can’t down them all,” he said. With respect to Jordan, he said that country was already receiving British Chieftain tanks and the addition of U.S. M-60s to its armored force would pose serious problems for Israel.

The debate on the settlement issue indicated how deeply the controversy runs. At the end, both sides could claim a partial victory. But Leon Dulzion, chairman of the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency Executives, made it clear that the debate was academic because the WZO is committed to build settlements wherever the government tells it to regardless of the sentiments expressed by the General Council.

The debate developed into a shouting match. Voices were strident and tempers were hot. On one hand, the Likud coalition delegates, headed by Mattityahu Drobless, co-chairman of the WZO’ settlement department, was forced to withdraw a motion calling for the WZO to concentrate on settlements in “areas of sparse Jewish population,” obviously a reference to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Likud forces realized the motion would be defeated.

But Likud was a narrow victory when a Labor Party motion to give priority to settlements in Israel proper — Galilee, the Negev and the Arava district — was narrowly defeated, 60-54. The first vote “by show of hands, was inconclusive and each side demanded a roll-call vote. By then, however, a number of me 170 delegates had left the hail.


Dulzin noted that whichever way the vote went, it would have no effect whatever on WZO policy. He explained that the WZO is obliged by contract to implement the settlement policy of the Israeli government, inspective of which party heads it. The WZO settlement department still build settlements regardless of what resolutions the Zionist General Council may adopt, he said.

Another controversial draft resolution to require Zionist leaders abroad to settle in Israel after serving two terms in office of relinquish their leadership roles, was quietly buried under strong pressure by Hadassah and other veteran Zionist groups.

The “young guards” of the various factions had backed the resolution and it was supported by a number of Israeli newspapers. But the older generation of the WZO leadership, both in Israel and abroad, had it effectively shelved by referring the draft to the Constitution Committee. The same committee had reported earlier in the week that a similar resolution adopted by the 29th World Zionist Congress was “unclear and vogue” and therefore could not be implemented until it was “clarified.”

There was a departure from usual practice at the closing session when Max Fisher, chairman of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, addressed the Zionist Council. He sharply criticized the politicization of the WZO along party lines.

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