U.N. Women’s Conference
The newspapers are reporting each day on the U.N. Women’s Conference, taking place in Beijing. Such a conference is held every few years, and it is worthwhile to compare the position and attitudes taken by Jewish women at each of these Conferences. Previous Conferences took place in Mexico City, Copenhagen and Nairobi. Before analyzing the situation now in China, let us look at the last important U.N. Conference on Women, which took place in 1985, in Nairobi, Kenya. I have special knowledge about that Conference, because I was there! Not as a delegate, mind you, but as a visitor in Kenya, who played a certain role in the Conference, nevertheless.
The Nairobi Hebrew Congregation, founded in the beginning of this century, has a beautiful synagogue and social hall, called Vermont Hall, in the center of Kenya’s capital. Long before the Conference opened, we were told that some 300 Jewish delegates would attend the Conference. There was a discussion in the congregation about whether we should make the synagogue and Vermont Hall available to these delegates. Some counseled against it, reasoning that with so many anti-Israeli delegates from Arab countries coming there, our buildings might become the subject of terrorists attacks if it became known that they served as headquarters for Jewish delegates. However, the majority voted for opening our premises wide open to our Jewish sisters coming from Israel, the Unites States, Europe and South America. We knew they would face the formidable task of doing battle with the prejudiced, hate-crazed Arab women and their leftist followers from other countries.
The main worry was that the Conference might adopt the "Zionism Equals Racism" resolution, which then was still on the books of the United Nations. How could the handful of Jewish delegates defeat such a resolution, which surely would be carried by a huge majority of the 13,000 delegates as it ordinarily did in these days at every U.N. forum?
As the Conference opened, the first problem was to find hotel rooms for our delegates. With 13,000 women attending the Conference, that posed a big problem. Luckily, since I had been a frequent guest in Nairobi since 1960, I knew the right people, who made rooms available to the Jewish delegates on a priority basis. I remember the warm expressions of thanks from the ladies, who were now spared the inconvenience of being housed in some far, distant locations, as were many others.
We soon arrived at an "Order of the Day," in which the 300 delegates would gather every day in Vermont Hall for strategy sessions and to make plans for the committee meetings they had to attend. Knowing the poisoned air against Israel, it took a great deal of courage on the part of the Jewish ladies to troop out to the conference hall and face, day after day, the nasty attacks and lies by the anti-
Semitic delegates from far and near.
Considering that none of the women in any of the Arab and other Moslem countries enjoyed freedom and equal opportunities, it was of course preposterous that they attacked Israel -- the only country in the Middle East with such privileges for women -- as being oppressive to women! No amount of reasoning or documentary evidence could help change the minds of the enemies of Israel. They simply said: "We have made up our minds; don’t confuse us with facts!"
Saturday marked a welcome change from these harrowing days. The synagogue was an oasis of peace and reflection and recharging of Jewish values.
Since there were many more women than men at Shabbat services, we arranged that the women would sit in the men’s section, and we men would sit in the women’s section. I was privileged to deliver the drasha on each of the three Shabbatot that the ladies were our guests. I made it a point to refer to the valiant, heroic women from Jewish history to encourage them in their own battles. Personalities such as Deborah, Yael, Esther and Yehudit, were only a few of those that I cited.
As the Conference drew closer to its end, the critical day of passing resolutions was coming nearer and nearer. How to avert the nasty Zionism-Racism Resolution? Three personalities came to the rescue: Maureen Reagan, the daughter of President Reagan; Alan Keys, the wonderful Republican African-American, who was then under secretary of state in the Reagan administration; and President Daniel arap Moi, Kenya’s President and a great friend of the Jews. The combination of these three, supported of course by the 300 Jewish delegates, accomplished what we really thought would be impossible. The dreaded Resolution was simply discarded and never brought to a vote! As you can imagine, this victory -- coming after so many frustrating, and disappointing days -- welcome relief and gave rise to a feeling of elation.
The Nairobi conference took place when Yitzchak Shamir was Prime Minister of Israel, and therefore, the Israeli delegation was made up of staunch Zionists, many representing religious groups their commitment to a strong Israel, to Jerusalem as the capital and to the strength of the patriotic settlers was unquestioned and was also shared by most of the non-Israeli Jewish delegates.
After the conference was over, I flew to Israel and shared the El Al flight with the Israeli delegates. They all exuded the great feeling of having accomplished much for Israel and the Zionist cause. The pro-PLO forces had suffered a defeat, and the cause of women’s rights and value, as exemplified by Israel, was vindicated. And all this was accomplished without any Jewish delegate caving in to PLO pressure.
All the known defenders of Jewish women’s rights were at the Conference. Only one person, who always publicized herself as a great feminist, was absent: Letty Pogrebin, co-chair of Americans for Peace Now. It took me a few years to find out why she had not joined her sisters in defending Jewish and Israeli rights. The answer is that at the time she was already totally committed to a Palestinian State -- on all the territory of Israel -- and to an anti-Israel posture, including hostility to the settlers and opposition to Jerusalem as the undivided Jewish capital under 100 percent Jewish sovereignty. Pogrebin could not have joined the Jewish women in battling against her good friends, the PLO women, so she stayed away!
I mention this fact because the same Letty Pogrebin recently published a long article about the Nairobi Conference, which gives the impression that she was there to shoulder the burden of the Jewish delegates and their battle against PLO attacks. For the record, this is a deception. After all, Pogrebin is the lady who wrote a book in which says that she did not let her sons be bar mitzva because she did not want them to be contaminated -- or some language to that effect -- by the religion of her father, whom she said she did not get along with. So maybe the defection to the Arab side was not all that difficult for her, but she should not pose as someone who stood up for the Jewish cause at Nairobi.
But now she gives an inkling of what mischief she might be up to at this year’s Conference in Beijing. This time the Israeli delegates are representing the Rabin-Peres government, which until now have not once shown character and spine in facing the PLO. Therefore the delegates from Israel can no longer be expected to take the staunch, patriotic Zionist line of the 1985 delegates, but rather the defeatist tactics of Beilin and Peres, whose idea of negotiating is to give in, fold up and make concessions even before they are demanded.
In an article Pogrebin hints that she is prepared to take up in Beijing topics totally unrelated to the agenda of the Conference, such as the growth of the settlements and the question of the final status of Jerusalem. She also seems ready to say that Palestinian women in Israel are mistreated. She will make a star performer for all leftist extremists who for years have been waiting for the opportunity to attack and dismantle a strong Israel.
The best thing that could happen in this worrisome situation would be if Pogrebin stayed home and did not stir the fire of anti-Zionism in Beijing. It would be a shame if the damage that the people of Israel are suffering from Americans for Peace Now would also be imported to China!
The proceedings in Beijing therefore bear careful monitoring.
You can now get video tapes in Arabic with English subtitles of some of the most ferocious speeches made by Arafat this year. In them he glorifies the "martyrs" who died in terrorist attacks on Jews and mocks Rabin, Israeli generals and Arik Sharon. He swears that none of the PLO commitments have been eliminated and that they will all be fulfilled, including hoisting the PLO flags on the mosques and churches of El-Kuds (Jerusalem), which will be the capital of the Palestinian State.
These blood-curdling speeches are a must for anyone concerned with the "peace" process. We must assume that Peres and Rabin have seen them, too. If anyone, after hearing Arafat’s speeches in Arabic -- not in English -- still continues to even speak to him, let alone shake his hand or sign an agreement with him, he should either have his head or his heart examined!
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