Israel and Jewish Continuity Main Topics at Federation Assembly
The annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of America and Canada was held this year in Denver, the friendly Western state that for generations has been a model Jewish community thousands of miles away from the East Coast. This year, some 3,0000 delegates flocked to the city in the largest Jewish gathering of the year. Besides the United States and Canada, several overseas countries were represented, mainly Israel and Argentina. The importance of the GA was underscored by the participation of Vice President Al Gore of the United States, Prime minister Yitzchak Rabin of Israel and Benyamin Netanyahu, the leader of Israel's opposition.
workshops and delegate meetings of all types and descriptions conducted discussions on the burning question of Jewish identity and continuity in the face of increasing intermarriage rates, declining Jewish education and decreasing synagogue attendance. These meetings seemed to me like extensions of a very similar discussion, which I attended, conducted last June in Israel among 240 Diaspora guests invited by Israel's President Ezer Weizman, who was alarmed by the decline in Diaspora Jewry.
There was, however, a remarkable difference between the two meetings. In the case of the Weizman meeting, hardly any Orthodox, traditional spokesmen were heard, and therefore, no concrete decisions could be taken for the improvement in the situation. Although we Orthodox were only a handful at the Weizman meeting, we made loud recommendations that religious, traditional education should be stepped up, so that our youth gains full understanding and appreciation of traditional Jewish values, including Zionism. The overwhelming majority of the guests were too assimilated to care.
By contrast the GA in Denver demonstrated the dramatic increase in influence of the Orthodox, traditional leaders within the over 10000 Federations in North America. And that influence showed itself at every turn at the GA.
With the headline in that day's Rocky Mountain News reading, "Arafat's Credibility, Peace Accord Threatened," Israel's Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin arrived in mile-high Denver last Thursday and received a chilly response from the representatives to the 1994 General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of America and Canada.
Rabin ,a darling of past Federation gatherings, did not receive the standing ovation he was accorded at last year's assembly, his exhortations "to give peace a chance" sounding somewhat awkward to many in the audience as the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Hamas terrorist group threatened to start a civil war in the Gaza Strip. However, Benyamin Netanyahu, Likud Party leader and Rabin's likely opponent in the next Israeli elections, who addressed the assembly the day after Rabin, was interrupted often by outbursts of applause -- and received a standing ovation.
Rabin delivered his speech to the thousands of delegates, with many Jewish dignitaries and American and local political personalities sitting on the dais. Although Rabin recently was a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to arrange peace between Israel and the Palestinians, none of the dignitaries who addressed Rabin, besides Colorado's non-Jewish governor, Roy Romer, mentioned the word "peace." They praised him for his past accomplishments in his military and political life, but simply left out his claim to having contributed to peace. A close associate of Rabin who attended the gathering said that the prime minister was "seething with anger" at the cold reception.
Rabin's speech was laden with phrases he has used many times in the past, such as, "You make peace with enemies, not with friends." But to some assembly delegates, the fact that the enemy that Israel signed a peace accord with 14 months ago -- Yasser Arafat -- is still not a friend, made Rabin's words sound hollow.
On the subject of U.S. troops on the Golan to assure peace with Syria, he said: "If U.S. troops are kosher in the Sinai, they should also be kosher on the Golan Heights." But he failed to address the arguments that are frequently made by opponents of troop deployment concerning the comparison between U.S. forces on the Golan and in Sinai desert. In the Sinai there are hundreds of miles of desert between the two parties, Egypt and Israel, and there are no terrorists in sight. On the Golan, there is no land deterrent, and the area is already honey-combed with Syrian-led terrorists, who are only waiting for the opportunity to attack U.S. troops.
In a press conference that followed his speech, this reporter asked the prime minister when will the Orient House -- the center in East Jerusalem used by the Palestinians as a headquarters for nationalistic activities -- be closed.
Rabin answered, "When we pass special legislation for this situations."
Netanyahu was asked the same question at a press conference held after his speech on Friday. He rejected the notion that Israel needs special legislation to assert jurisdiction over East Jerusalem, but he said that if Rabin wants such legislation, he will get it.
Netanyahu: `Consequences of False Peace'
In his speech, Netanyahu stressed that the Likud and every other party in Israel wants peace but that the Rabin-negotiated peace is a fraudulent peace. He said he is convinced that he can reach an agreement with reasonable Palestinians -- some of whom have already met with him -- who have no faith in either Arafat or Rabin.
"I have not yet met an Israeli or a Jew anywhere who does not want peace. But we want a peace that will endure, as the one we have signed with Jordan," Netanyahu said.
He cautioned that "there have been in history peace treaties which have ushered in war instead of peace." He singled out the Holocaust as the leading example of how the "Jewish people have suffered the terrible consequences of false peace," and asserted that the accord signed with the PLO is also a "failed peace."
"From all the speeches made by Arafat -- and many are not even reported in the news services -- it is evident that he never intended to have peace with Israel," Netanyahu said.
He also urged the assembly delegates to call on President Bill Clinton to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, a statement that received much applause.
On the topic of peace with Syria, the Likud leader said, to great applause, that Syrian President Hafez al-Assad has proved that he cannot be trusted and that the only protection Israel has against him is the Golan Heights.
"The conditions for peace with a dictator is that you maintain the strategic deterrent to war. We cannot exchange the do facto non-belligerency, which we have today with Syria, for a piece of paper -- I say not. We can only consider peace with Syria if we maintain the Golan Heights with its deterrent against aggression in a future war," Netanyahu said.
Vice President Al Gore addressed the assembly on Friday. Gore, who is recovering from an injury to his Achilles tendon, started his speech by saying, "I come at a timely moment, with the weekly portion referring to Jacob in similar terms as my own conditions." The audience, which exuberantly applauded the remark, was not sure whether Gore, who was on crutches, was referring to the description of Jacob limping after fighting with the angel, as described in the portion of the week, or to Jacob grasping Esau's heel described in the Torah portion two weeks earlier.
At the press conference that followed his speech, this reporter asked the vice president the following question: "You and the president were elected on a platform of a united Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel, yet when the president visited Jerusalem, he refused to visit the Old City accompanied by the Jewish mayor. Has the government's policy on Jerusalem changed?"
Gore's answer was very similar to the position taken by the Bush administration: "I think that respect for the delicacy of the negotiations under way at a critical moment is in keeping with long-stated U.S. policy. This is a matter that must be reserved for the final status negotiations. There is nothing new about that," Gore said.
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