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U.S. Jewish Leaders Get a Taste of Life Under Iraqi Missile Threat

January 30, 1991
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Members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations got a taste this week of what Israelis have endured under repeated Iraqi missile attacks.

As the 51 members of the visiting delegation were listening Monday night to a speech by Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the Hyatt Hotel in Jerusalem, air raid sirens began to wail. The delegates immediately filed into sealed rooms and put on their gas masks.

“Carrying gas masks became natural for us,” Conference of Presidents Chairman Shoshana Cardin said, summing up the three-day fact-finding and solidarity mission to Israel.

“But I was not prepared for the sealed room,” she added. “To see small children put in their (plastic gas-proof) tents was very moving and devastating. This unreal situation has become all too real for Israel.”

Cardin said that leaders of the conference plan to meet with Secretary of State James Baker soon after they return Tuesday evening to the United States. She said they would urge the administration to do more to eliminate the Iraqi Scud missile threat, because the worst for Israel may be yet to come.

“I am leaving with a sense of optimism that Israel will prevail in the current crisis,” Cardin said. “But I recognize that the situation is serious — more serious than we anticipated prior to our coming. Saddam Hussein won’t hesitate to use any weapon in his arsenal if he is up against the wall and has nothing more to lose.”


Members of the visiting delegation met Tuesday with Prime Minister Shamir, who stressed that for Israel there is no policy of either retaliation or of restraint.

The principle involved, Cardin quoted Shamir as saying, is the defense of Israel’s citizens and its borders. It is up to the government to determine what measures are needed for defense.

Cardin said when the leaders returned to the United States, their role would be threefold:

“First there is education. What people see on television about what is happening here is superficial. We have to tell Israel’s story in depth.

“Then there are the added financial burdens on Israel from the war, in addition to what is being done for the Soviet immigrants. Whatever we have done (until now), it is not enough. We recognize that additional financial assistance from philanthropy, government and private investment is necessary. These sectors have to assume a stronger position in addressing the needs.”

On the political plane, she said, “it is our responsibility to remind (American) political leaders of the role of Israel as an ally.”

Cardin sought to dispel the perception held by some Israelis that American Jewry has abandoned them because so many tours and other visits have been canceled.

“We will come back again, and we will encourage people to visit here. I will tell my son to volunteer here if he wants,” she said. “I have been impressed by the spirit here and by people’s ability to lead a normal life under conditions that are not normal.”

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