PM to U.S. Jewish leaders: I won’t compromise on Jerusalem

NEW YORK – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, speaking at a meeting with Jewish leaders in New York early Monday, said he refused to compromise on Jerusalem in a peace deal with the Palestinians. „I will never negotiate on Jerusalem,” the prime minister said in his speech. Earlier, the prime minister was heckled by anti-pullout protesters as he gave a speech defending his planned withdrawal from Gaza. As he spoke, several protesters stood up in the audience at Baruch College in Manhattan; one exposed a T-shirt with the Gush Katif slogan and shouted, „Jews don’t expel Jews!” Several of those present booed the protesters and shouted profanities but the interruptions grew louder and the prime minister had to pause as the demonstrators – many also wearing orange T-shirts, the color adopted by disengagement opponents – were escorted out of the auditorium. Sharon then received a warm ovation from the crowd of more than a thousand Jewish leaders and activists, which was overwhelmingly in favor of his plan. „Usually I handle these things myself,” Sharon said before continuing. The prime minister, who later received a standing ovation from much of the audience, called the plan to withdraw from Gaza „the most difficult decision” he has ever made and warned that „the coming period will be one of the most difficult the State of Israel has known since its establishment.” He insisted that the plan was necessary to preserve Israel’s Jewish majority, encourage the peace process and „make certain that important parts of the cradle of the Jewish people would remain part of Israel forever.” Outside Baruch College, several hundred more protesters – many of them ultra-Orthodox – also demonstrated against the disengagement. Members of the New York Jewish community said this was the first time they could ever remember Jewish supporters of Israel demonstrating against a right-wing prime minister. Community leaders said it was ironic that Sharon’s visit, which was supposed to show a united Jewish front in support of the government, had actually ended up making the community’s internal rifts, and the antipathy toward Sharon that prevails among a significant portion of it, more visible. MK Binyamin Elon (National Union) addressed the demonstrators and urged them not to believe that the disengagement was unstoppable. Most of Sharon’s speech was devoted not to the disengagement but to Israel-Diaspora relations. „The lives of Jews in the Diaspora today are not in danger, but their lives as Jews are,” he said, warning that intermarriage and assimilation threaten the future of overseas Jewish communities. He urged American Jews to support Jewish-Zionist education around the world and to send their children to visit Israel through programs such as birthright – which runs 10-day trips, and Masa – which organizes longer stays. Visiting Israel, he said, strengthens young Jews’ Jewish identity. He cited immigration to Israel as one of his government’s key policy goals, saying he wanted to see a million Jews immigrate over the next 15 years. Sharon arrived in the United States Sunday for a three-day visit devoted to bolstering ties with American Jews and recruiting their support for the disengagement. On Monday, the prime minister will meet Jewish officials and major Jewish donors in New York, and Tuesday he will address the American Israel Public Affairs convention in Washington. However, he is not due to meet any U.S. officials during the visit. Sharon to attend AIPAC conference Sharon to attend AIPAC conference The prime minister’s itinerary does not include meetings with U.S. government officials, but prior to his return Sharon will meet with American Jewish leaders in New York, Israel Radio reported. AIPAC, America’s pro-Israel lobby, opens its 2005 policy conference Sunday in Washington with 5,000 delegates and dignitaries present, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Congressional leaders and Sharon. This is AIPAC’s first policy conference since a FBI investigation against two senior AIPAC officials was made public last summer. The officials are being investigated for allegedly receiving classified information from Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin and conveying it to Israel. AIPAC is aiming to turn the conference into a display of force that will prove that the lobby was not compromised by the investigation. A great deal of attention, therefore, was placed on publicizing the conference and on bringing top-notch officials from the administration and from Congress to speak at the event. The organization claims the investigation is ongoing, and that the dismissal of the senior officials who were involved in the affair, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, did not affect the organization’s work on Capitol Hill and with the U.S. administration. „AIPAC is focused on its one central mission – strengthening Israel-U.S. ties,” AIPAC’s spokesman Josh Block said last week. Sharon meets with Israeli ambassador Ayalon Sharon also met Sunday with Danny Ayalon, the beleaguered Israeli ambassador to Washington, whom he praised to reporters in his entourage as an „excellent ambassador.” He also praised Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who wants to recall Ayalon, saying that Shalom is „definitely a good foreign minister who does his work.” Sharon declined to promise that Ayalon would not be recalled. Although Sharon has no formal meeting scheduled with Ayalon, the ambassador was one of the officials who welcomed him at the airport and he also sat on Sharon’s right hand at the Baruch College event. Later, Sharon’s aides praised Ayalon’s ties with senior American officials, noting that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had attended a Pesach seder at his house. Morton Zuckerman, the publisher of the New York Daily News and U.S. News and World Report and a former head of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, also praised the ambassador during the Baruch College event. Shalom and Ayalon have been engaged in mutual recriminations ever since the minister decided to fire Ayalon’s aide, Liran Peterzil. Shalom has accused Ayalon of irregularities in his management of the embassy. Ayalon says that Shalom fired Peterzil because the minister’s wife, Judy Nir-Mozes Shalow was angry at Peterzil’s failure to secure her a meeting with pop star Madonna when she visited Israel. BPI-info