Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Jews and Israel

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Jews and Israel

Article excerpt


Sign of the Times

Nine trustees of the American Jewish Congress met recently with Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat in Cairo. The meeting occurred during the trustees' visit to the Middle East to persuade Arab leaders to end the boycott of Israel. According to The Washington Post, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak invited Arafat to Cairo after the delegation began making the case against the boycott to Mubarak. He told an aide to call Arafat because "he should hear this."

"It was unreal," said Lester Brown, a Chicago businessman, after the meeting with Arafat. "You didn't believe it was happening." Lawrence Blum, another member of the delegation, said, "After all these years of having a mental impression of someone and then you see that he doesn't really comport with these ideas. I wonder how he felt!"

That was not the only sign of the changes in relationship between Jewish Americans and Palestinians. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that Nabil Shaath, senior adviser to Arafat, appeared on a panel of Middle East experts at a conference sponsored in Washington by the United Jewish Appeal Women's Division. The appearance of a PLO official at a major Jewish gathering was believed to be a first. Jordanian Crown Prince Hassan appeared at the conference earlier in the week.

Shaath was added to the panel despite the recommendation of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that its member groups not participate in meetings with PLO officials. The upheaval of events and attitudes prompted the weekly Forward to declare in a page-one headline, "U.S. Jews at Sea Over PLO Pact."

As Forward put it, "Less than a year after the Zionist Organization of America's president bashed the Peace Now movement as the `political equivalent of Jews for Jesus,' ZOA is endorsing an Israeli government that embraces Peace Now goals. . .The Anti-Defamation League is looking to student Zionist organizations for advice on improving dialogue with Arab Americans."

The New York Jewish weekly commented that the agreement between the PLO and the Israeli government is "forcing organized American Jewry to play catch- up with current events and setting groups in tortuous searches for new identities and raisons d'etre. That, in turn, has led to no small amount of ideological flip-flops. . ."

"There is a crisis of purpose facing American Jewry," Forward quotes World Jewish Congress executive director Elan Steinberg as saying. "The old formulas--protect Israel, save Soviet Jewry, save Ethiopian Jewry--are noble, but they have little relevance to today's political and social reality." Forward said that "organization insiders" feel they may not be prepared to focus on domestic problems faced by Jewish Americans.

"The problem now is that none of the proper structures exist in the United States to revitalize Diaspora Jewry," Jonathan Glick, national director of the progressive Zionist Caucus, a campus organization, told Forward. "We've created a community that excels at producing Jewish fundraisers, but we can't for the life of us find Jewish leaders."

Gail Pressberg, the former president of Americans for Peace Now, once shunned by mainline Jewish American organizations, said a "Cold War-like dependence on Israel's traditional foes" had been developed by the Jewish community. …

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