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March 31, 1989 - Image 42

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-03-31

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Shamir's Love-In

Continued from preceding page

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Many of those who attend-
ed the conference did so in a
mood of outright skepticism
— and then only after much
soul-searching. Many others,
including respected com-
munal leaders, known for
their devotion to Israel, chose
to stay away.
Sir Isaiah Berlin of
England, one of the many
"celebrities" who declined an
invitation to the conference;
made no attempt to hide his
feelings: Talking with
Shamir, declared the pre-
eminent British academic,
was like talking to a rock.
Ted Mann, a former chair-
man of the Conference of
Presidents of Major American
Jewish Organizations, was
more discreet but says he
"never held out much hope"
for the conference being a
meaningful dialogue. He said
he signed on in support (he
did not attend because of
business obligations at
home), but was concerned
that the conference would
leave the impression that all
of the participants supported
Shamir's positions. And he
added that many of those
American Jewish leaders who
attended the conference
shared his skepticism, but
went out of loyalty.
Notably missing were large
numbers of Federation ex-
ecutives and lay leaders from
the United States who were
unhappy with the lack of pro-
cess involved in planning the
conference and Jerusalem's
seemingly haphazard style in
inviting participants.
For those who did make the
journey, the gathering was an
opportunity to suspend
disbelief, if only for a few
days, in the magical, balmy
Jerusalem spring, and to hear
what they have wanted to
hear for so long: an Israeli
government, from Labor's
Shimon Peres to Likud's
Shamir, speaking with a
single voice.
(Delegates needed to close
off the reality of the real
world, though, to believe the
message of unity. After all,
the major news on the day of
the conference opening was of
a leaked Israeli intelligence
report indicating that the
government will have to talk
to the PLO if they want to
deal with Palestinians. This
was no doubt leaked to em-
barrass Shamir and under-
mine the conference's theme.
And within days after the
delegates returned home
there were leaks regarding
Peres's own peace plan.)
It was clear that Likud con-
trolled the conference,
though, and many delegates
expressed their concern about
the political implications of

The solidarity conference at Jerusalem's Binyanei Ha'uma.

attending the gathering, in-
cluding Albert Chernin, ex-
ecutive vice chairman of the
National Jewish Community
Relations Advisory Co.mmit-
tee (NACRAC).
"Our major concern about
the conference," said Chernin,
"was that we would be ex-
pected to give a blank check
to Shamir's policies."
He noted that in late
February a "significant
minority" of his members
were pushing his organiza-
tion toward open support of
"the kind of positions being
articulated by Shimon Peres,
Yossi Beilin and others in the
Labor Party." When a vote
was taken, there were 193 for
and 207 against.
"This vote, by one of the
most representative bodies in
the American Jewish com-
munity, shows how sharply
divided we have become," said
Chernin. "A year ago, you
would have had 20, maybe 25
percent of the delegates
pushing for a more critical
stand toward the government
of Israel.
"Now people are openly
raising the questions, 'Should
Israel negotiate with the
PLO?' Should we consider a
Palestinian state as a viable
option?' These ideas are per-
colating through the com-
munity and the policies of
Israel need to be responsive to
Were the Israelis listening?
Shoshana Cardin felt they
were. The former president of
the Council of Jewish Federa-
tions sensed "a new receptivi-
ty to expressions of concern
from Diaspora Jews.
"They are treating our
views with a special sense of
responsibility and I believe
that the response must be a
sense of discipline and
solidarity from Jews
And Arden Shenker, presi-
dent of the National Jewish
Community Relations Ad-
visory Council, said that

while he had been skeptical of
the conference beforehand, he
was impressed with its spirit
of openness and unity. "There
was a good cross-section
represented and people who
wanted to express criticism
did so."
Other delegates expressed
optimism that, as one said,
"Shamir was listening hard
to what we had to say in the
steering committee sessions,
that he had to take some-
thing new to Washington."
The harsh fact, however, is
that while the Israeli leader
issued- a clarion call to the
delegates to "go back to your
homes and stand up and be
counted whenever the needs
of our people and our land
will require it," he gave them
little ammunition with which
to rally their foot-soldiers.
"I think a lot of them are
flying on faith," said one
Israeli official as the gather-
ing wound down. "Basically,
they are trusting that Shamir
will come to Washington with
something in his hand,
something they can work
"If he does that, then this
conference might be a real
landmark, maybe the begin-
ning of a real dialogue bet-
ween the Israeli government
and Diaspora Jewry.
"But if he goes to Washing-
ton determined to tough it
out, then the glow of en-
thusiasm kindled by this con-
ference will go out and it will
be a long time before any
Israeli leader will be able to
call Diaspora leaders to
Jerusalem for a solidarity
conference again.
"A lot of them will feel they
have been used and abused.
And rightly so."
The point was underscored
by Burton Levinson, national
chairman of the Anti-
Defamation League, who con-
trasted the positive emotional
experience of the gathering —
the "re- charging of batteries"
Continued on Page 56

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