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Jewish Groups to Meet Heads of State in New York As a U.N. Summit Begins

September 12, 2005
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When international leaders converge in New York this week for the United Nations 2005 World Summit, they’ll hobnob with one another and huddle with their representatives in America. But their get-togethers won’t end there.

They’ll also be taking part in scores of meetings with American Jewish organizations eager to establish contact, renew old friendships and educate them on issues of Jewish concern.

“The world leaders get the opportunity here to see what American Jews look like and what they think,” said Rabbi Israel Singer, the chairman of the World Jewish Congress.

The WJC kicked off the frenzied period of powwows surrounding the Sept. 14-16 conference last Friday with an event showcasing leaders closer to home: Newt Gingrich, the co-chair of the American Task Force on the United Nations, told members of the WJC that the United States ought to be “determined to shame the other democracies into joining us” in demanding better treatment for Israel. U.N. insiders and observers say Israel remains a second-class citizen at the world body.

Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, further stressed that without “profound” reform, the United Nations would become irrelevant.

“The United Nations has failed,” he said. Still, he added, the world body is worth fighting to save and the United States must be “militant” in pushing its values and interests there.

If reform efforts fail, however, “We should systematically find other institutions and other ways to be effective,” he said.

The new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, also addressed the group. “What we really need” at the U.N., Bolton said, “is a cultural revolution.”

As of last Friday, Bolton said, U.N. representatives were still haggling over a definition of terrorism and whether or not national liberation groups ought to be exempted from the label.

“We know what the answer is,” he said.

By far the largest organizer of these meetings is the American Jewish Committee, which has been coordinating them for the last 15 years. During each of the last two years, the AJCommittee has held an average of 65 meetings with world leaders in conjunction with the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, which the World Summit launches.

“We’ve been preparing for these meetings for several months and so we have extensive materials for each meeting, including a good deal of background material based on previous meetings with these countries,” said Jason Isaacson, the director of government and international affairs for the AJCommittee. “We have an agenda that is tailored for each country.”

In meetings with leaders of European states, Isaacson said, discussions may range from ways to support the peace “road map” in Israel to concerns about anti-Semitism to issues such as transatlantic relations and enlargement of the European Union. And in meetings with Arab state leaders, he said, talks will focus on hearing the Arabs’ views on advancing regional peace in the aftermath of the Gaza Strip pullout.

Numerous other Jewish groups are taking part in high-level meetings with presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers hailing from capitals around the globe. Some meetings involve several groups; others will be smaller, with just one or two groups.

The American Jewish Congress is hosting a meeting, to be attended by numerous members of the Jewish community, with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

The Musharraf meeting is considered a breakthrough because Pakistan, a Muslim nation, has no ties to Israel.

The Anti-Defamation League is presenting its Distinguished Statesman Award to Aleksander Kwasniewski, Poland’s president, at a luncheon on Friday.

Kwasniewski also will be feted at a meal hosted by the AJCommittee on Thursday. At a Sept. 18 dinner, the AJCommittee’s executive director, David Harris, will receive a French Legion of Honor award from France’s foreign minister.

The Romanian president, Traian Basescu, also will be hosting a dinner with Jewish leaders.

On Sept. 18, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations will be meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The following day, the conference will meet with Israel’s foreign minister, Silvan Shalom.

Sharon will also be meeting with a group of top donors to the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group for the North American Jewish federations, during his visit.

This is just a sampling of some of the larger gatherings planned.

Jewish officials also will be meeting with leaders from, among other countries: Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Croatia, Egypt, France, the Vatican, India, Italy, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Morocco, Oman, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Other groups that will be participating in such meetings include the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, B’nai B’rith, the Claims Conference, and NCSJ: Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia.

Amy Goldstein, the director of U.N. affairs at B’nai B’rith International, said that these meetings serve an important function in the context of current events, including Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and a push to reform the United Nations being backed by President Bush, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and others.

“It’s the heads of state and foreign minister that make the final decision, and there’s nothing like the direct access we get in these meetings,” she said.

Not everyone is entirely upbeat about the slew of meetings. Abraham Foxman, the national director of the ADL, said that he was “very distressed by the way these meetings are being set up.”

“It’s just embarrassing to require a head of state or foreign minister who’s in New York for just a few days to wind up trying to juggle two to three Jewish appointments where basically our agendas are not different,” he said.

Foxman acknowledged that some groups have special relationships with certain countries but recommended that in the future all the groups meet the leaders together, with a rotating system for chairing and hosting the meetings.

“We don’t have serious business with all of these” nations, he said. “We should also be able to come together and say, ‘These are 20 musts, 20 semi-musts and the rest, if you want to go, go.’ “

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