It is difficult for any large organization to switch gears.
The United Jewish Communities The UJC of North America, which comprises all major Jewish organizations in North America, gathers this week for its annual “General Assembly” at the Marriot Hotel at 12th and Market Streets in Philadelphia, under the cloud of a new war looming in the Middle East.
Why is this “G.A.” different from annual meetings of the GA in the past?
This General Assembly follows more than a decade of “general assemblies” in which the UJC prepared its constituent Jewish federations for an era of peace.
As recently as October 13, 1999, the same UJC offered Yassir Arafat the Isaiah Award for Peace, as a gesture of support for Arafat’s role in the Oslo peace process. After the prize was prematurely leaked the UJC cancelled the public event, although Arafat’s office reported that the UJC did indeed provide Arafat with the peace prize in private.
Today, awards for Arafat are not on the UJC agenda.
Last week’s news that Arafat’s own Fateh troops conducted a massacre at the left wing Kibbutz Metzer, killing a mother, her two small children a woman school teacher and the kibbutz secretary struck a deep note of shock throughout the Jewish world, even in some Jewish groups who had held out hope of some kind of settlement with Arafat’s Palestine Authority would be possible.
For those participants in the UJC General Assembly who had any illusions about whether the Fateh attack on Kibbutz Metzer did not reflect policy change for Arafat, a new addition to the Fateh website (www.fatehorg.org) on the morning that followed the Metzer attack provided the answer. Since the November 12th attack, the Fateh has conducted an daily interactive internet survey in which Arafat’s organization asks its constituents as to “where it preferred to conduct martyrdom attacks with four options given: – On the areas taken by Israel after 1948 (like Kibbutz Metzer, founded in 1953 on the ruins of an abandoned Arab village); On areas taken by Israel after 1967 (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria);. On areas taken by Israel in 1948 AND 1967, or not at all. Option Number Three, favoring attacks on almost all of Israel, continues to lead the winner of the Fateh interactive website with a 66% response rate to the idea of attacking anywhere in Israel.
In light of such a bleak prospect for peace with Arafat’s Palestinian Arab entity, the government of Israel has dispatched a team of security experts to brief the UJC General Assemble and to prepare Jewish Americans for the prospect of a widened war in the middle east, both with the Palestinian entity and with its ally and sponsor, Iraq.
Israel also dispatched its deputy prime minister, the former Soviet prisoner of Zion, Natan Scharansky, to ask Jewish groups for assistance that Israel will ask for in the months to come.
This will not the first time that the nascent state of Israel has reached out to the Jews of the US for support.
In 1948, the year of Israel’s birth, the Jewish state’s future prime minister Golda Meir crisscrossed the US, recruiting funds and volunteers to fight in Israel’s war for independence.
Since that time, Israel has dispatched countless emissaries to their co-religionists in the US to ask for help in the tremendous burden of absorbing thousands of Jews from Ethiopia, the former Soviet Union and. of late, from Argentina.
Israel has always viewed the Jews in the US as its strongest ally, and this week’s gathering at the UJC General Assembly in Philadelphia provides no exception to that perception.
Yet Israel should not be under any illusions that Jews in the US will continue to provide automatic unified support for the Jewish state, even during a time of war.
There are at least a dozen small Jewish organizations in the US work closely with the Palestinian Authority, and at least three organizations in Philadelphia that raise funds to support Israeli soldiers who choose to desert their units at this time.
Can Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Scharansky win over those participants at the UJC General Assembly who still believe in the chance for peace with Arafat’s Palestinian Authority?
That is the $64,000 question of the week at the Marriot.