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March 24, 1989 - Image 32

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-03-24

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Being Summoned To Jerusalem:
Who Obeyed And Who Did Not

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GARY ROSENBLATT

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Editor

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32

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y the time you read
this, Israeli Prime
Minister Yitzhak Sha-
mir's Conference on Jewish
Solidarity With Israel will be
history. But accounts of the
major Jerusalem event, its
resolutions and discussions,
are only part of the story.
The fact is that many
American Jewish leaders are
deeply worried about Israel's
stance at this time, whether
or not they discuss it public-
ly, and were ambivalent
about participating in the
unique conference. So it is as
important to realize who did
not attend, and why, as it is
to explore what the gathering
accomplished.
Many were invited; few ac-
cepted. Nationally, thousands
of invitations were sent out by
the Israel Embassy and its
consulates. In the end, about
800 people were expected to
attend from the United States
and another 400 from the rest
of the Diaspora. From De-
troit, Max Fisher and David
Hermelin, two international
Jewish leaders, went to
Jerusalem, as well as former
Federation president Joel
Tauber.
Not exactly an overwhelm-
ing response. Where were the
other leaders of the Detroit
community?
A Federation leader ac-
knowledged that the con-
ference was not given a high
priority locally because it was
handled with little notice or
process and "promises to con-
tain very little substance." He
and others felt that the par-
ticipants would be co-opted by
Jerusalem for internal
political purposes.
Last March, on the eve of
his official Washington visit,
Shamir addressed a gather-
ing of the UJA Young Leader-
ship in Washington and used
their enthusiastic applause to
indicate, at home and in
America, that all of American
Jewry supported his hardline
stance on the territories and
the intifada.
Similarly, at the closing
event of the Conference of
Presidents of Major American
Jewish Organizations
meeting last year, Shamir
lashed out at Diaspora Jews
who criticize Israeli policy
and asserted that the role of
Diaspora Jewry is to unite
behind Israel, period.
How did this unique con-
ference come about? The idea

behind it is a powerful one,
politically and symbolically.
On the eve of Shamir's first
Washington meeting with
President Bush, in April,
when he will be under
pressure to come up with a
peace plan of his own, he
wants to be able to show that
world Jewry is behind him in
his steadfast refusal to talk to
the Palestine Liberation
Organization, give up any oc-
cupied territory or ease ef-
forts to put down the intifada.
In his letter of invitation to
several thousand "leaders" in
America and throughout the
Diaspora, Shamir wrote that
"in view of recent
developments in the Middle
East, there is an urgent need
to strengthen the relationship
of solidarity between Israel
and all Jews around the
world. The government of
Israel expects the entire
Jewish people to stand at
Israel's side in its quest for
peace, security and prosperi-
ty."
(Who received Shamir's in-
vitation is a story in itself.
Israeli Embassy officials said
they had compiled lists of na-
tional and local Jewish
leaders and sought the advice
of Jewish organizations in
recommending people who
would actually go. Thousands
of invitations were sent out,
seemingly indiscriminately.
The invitation I received from
the Prime Minister shows
"Dear Mr. Stein" whited-out
under "Dear Mr. Rosen-
blatt.")
At first, there was great
skepticism about the con-
ference. A number of national
Jewish leaders, just returned
from meetings in Jerusalem,
resisted the idea of returning
so soon for another meeting.
More significantly, they felt
that they would be co-opted
by Shamir and made to ap-
pear in support of policies
they did not necessarily agree
with. And they questioned
whether they would have an
opportunity to express
themselves openly on such
sensitive subjects as Israel's
vision for peace and its
methods in dealing with the
intifada.
The Israelis stressed that
the conference would be
bipartisan, chaired by Labor
minister Mordechai Gur as
well as Likud minister Ehud
Olmert, and both men were
dispatched to the United
States. They traveled about
tirelessly in an effort to drum
up enthusiasm for the con-

ference, assuring questioners
that the conference would not
be a rubber-stamp affair but
would allow for free expres-
sion from all participants.
Through their efforts, and
some high-powered arm
twisting from Jerusalem, the
major national Jewish
organizations came out in
support of the conference.
(One Federation executive
said he was going because if
the Who Is A Jew? issue came
up again, he would be able to
say that he had responded
positively to Shamir's call to
attend.) A full-page ad in last
Sunday's New York Times an-
nounced the "full support" for

"If we are truly
partners, then
when one partner
says 'I need you;
you so."

the gathering of the dozens of
national groups comprising
the Conference of Presidents
of Major American Jewish
Organizations.
But privately, the am-
bivalence remained. Howard
Squadron, a past chairman of
the Presidents Conference,
said he viewed the Jerusalem
gathering as "artificial," and
Rabbi Al Lewis, president of
the Rabbinical Alliance (Con-
servatiVe), said he could not
attend because the conference
was being held on Purim and
he had obligations within his
own congregation. (A number
of rabbis were angered over
the fact that the conference
was being held on Purim,
asserting that such schedul-
ing underscored the Israelis'
insensitivity to religious
issues.) Lewis said his support
for Israel is unwavering, but
admitted ambivalence about
the conference.
Shoshana Cardin, though,
made a strong case for atten-
ding. On the eve of her depar-
ture, the chairman of the Na-
tional Conference on Soviet
Jewry explained that Ameri-
can Jewish leaders owed it to
Shamir to attend out of
courtesy and respect. "If we
are truly partners, then when
one partner says 'I need you,'
you go." She said that she had
been convinced that there
will be serious, meaningful
discussions in small groups
and that the delegates will
have an opportunity "to
speak and be heard with
respect and seriousness in
Jerusalem."



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