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Jewish Groups Come Together to Issue Statement of Solidarity

March 20, 2002
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Unity trumps all.

After several days of fine tuning, American Jewish organizations, representing nearly every take on Judaism and Israel, have unanimously agreed on a solidarity statement with Israel.

But to get there, the final version of the statement expressed support for the state of Israel rather than its government, as was originally proposed.

The statement by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations comes at a time, the umbrella groups says, when it matters most.

“American Jews need an opportunity to come together and be heard in an expression of unity,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents.

The statement, titled “We Stand With Israel,” was slated to appear in full-page advertisements Thursday in major newspapers across the country, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times.

The ad is part of a broad solidarity initiative launched by the Conference of Presidents in partnership with the United Jewish Communities and its member organizations.

A cornerstone of the initiative is set for March 24, when pro-Israel gatherings are being planned for dozens of communities around the country.

In New York, the gathering, for some 1,000 people, will take place at the 92nd St. Y. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, other top Israeli officials, Israeli terror victims and American political leaders are slated to address the groups by live telecast.

After several days of debate and discussion over the language, all but one of the umbrella group’s 52 organizations signed on to the ad.

The only group that didn’t sign was the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which, as a humanitarian organization, has a policy that precludes participation in public political action.

Hoenlein said the statement steered clear of potentially divisive political points, but instead strove “to express our solidarity with the people of Israel and for the people of Israel to see that we stand with them at this very difficult time” when they “feel very isolated and alone.”

Beyond finding a nexus for American Jewry and Israel, the ads target the audience of the mass media, Hoenlein said, to “show our own government and American people that we stand united with Israel and hope that they will do so as well.”

The statement begins: “We stand with the people and the state of Israel at this critical time. We share their pain and outrage at the terrible loss of life and limb as a result of the Palestinian campaign of terror and violence launched against Israel eighteen months ago.”

It continues: “We stand with Israel as it fulfills its most basic responsibility as a democracy; defending the nation and protecting its citizens.”

The changes from the draft to the final version reflect the statement’s sticking points.

Most glaring is the deletion of a proposed statement that followed the demand for Palestinians to end the terror campaign and live up to their previous commitments.

The deleted statement read: “This will make a cease fire possible and enable a return to negotiations.”

Another major change altered the initial version from supporting the “government” of Israel to the “state” of Israel.

Also, a statement calling for a peace that will assure the safety of Israel’s citizens is newly expanded to encompass “all the citizens of the region.”

Explaining the edits, Arthur Naparstek, director of the Israel and Overseas Pillar for UJC, said, “You had a variety of different points of view that had to be taken into account.”

“People had some different thoughts about wording, that’s all,” said Naparstek, who participated in the discussion on behalf of 189 local federations.

The ad campaign, along with the events, is estimated to cost between $200,000 and $230,000, according to Naparstek.

The funds will come from the UJC’s budget that had been allocated for a solidarity rally in New York that had been planned for Sept. 23.

That rally was canceled to avoid diverting security officials after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Naparstek said.

Funds will also be drawn from Israel’s Foreign Ministry’s office, Israel Bonds, and the Conference of Presidents, organizers said.

That has some members asking if the tactic is the best use of organized Jewry’s stretched resources — amidst crises in Israel and Argentina — and what impact the initiative will have.

But organizers say it is important to make a statement at this time, and to do it in a more subdued way.

“The focus of this event is the engagement of as many cities as possible, Naparstek said. “That’s where the energy is going.

“We clearly could do a Madison Square Garden event,” he said, referring to the ceremony held in New York after former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, but that would be “very costly” and “very labor intensive.”

The rationale for this approach is “to respond to the need among Jews throughout the Diaspora to express themselves in support of Israel,” and to “give the Israelis a message that we’re standing with them.”

As the number of signatories indicate, the statement brings the organized American Jewish community together across the political divide.

On the right, Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said: “This is a very strong statement of support for Israel and its policies. What is especially gratifying is that this statement explicity condemns Arafat for his eight years of pro-terror, anti-peace” policies.

ZOA had objected to any statement about a return to negotiations — none was included in the final version.

Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have “shown themselves to be a group of terrorists devoted to the murder of Jews and the destruction of Israel,” said Klein, whose group has mounted a worldwide ad campaign demanding that the Bush administration end relations with the P.A.

The statement also pleased the left-wing Americans for Peace Now, which had reservations about the initial version.

Changing support for the Israeli “government” to “state” removed many of the concerns of the group, said spokesman Lewis Roth, whose group has been critical of some of Sharon’s recent actions.

Peace Now also had objected to the original reference to negotiations, not because it doesn’t support negotiations but because the way it had been phrased suggested that violence must end before negotiations begin.

Roth also said the “call for peace for all peoples of the region makes it softer.”

Martin Raffel, associate executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, praised the statement for nailing down the consensus positions in the community. “I thought it did a nice job of bringing as many people in the community under the tent as possible.”

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