Although returning participants may now try to paper over the cracks, the necessity to stage a solidarity conference was the clearest indication yet that Mr Shamir does not have full support for his policies in the diaspora and that loyal dissent is a serious obstacle. According to Ehud Olmert MK, co-ordinator of the conference on Jewish solidarity with Israel, 1,581 delegates attended.
What was not published was the actual number of people invited. Although the conference was deemed to be of vital importance to the Jewish people, only 36 per cent of those invited from Britain, actually attended.
From Los Angeles, a major centre of Jewish life, 32 per cent of the invitees accepted. If this is a general pattern, then although 1,581 attended, nearly 3,200 probably did not come. No doubt some were busy, but clearly many deliberately chose not to attend in order to protest against Israeli Government policy.
Mr Shamir’s invitations to diaspora Jews were processed by Israeli embassies and consulates — and not by elected communal organisations. Candidates could therefore be assessed as to their political suitability. This explains the inability of Dr Lionel Kopelowitz to obtain a list of delegates beforehand — clearly the Board of Deputies was perceived as unreliable in that they would make attempts to ensure that a delegation was representative.
In Los Angeles, prominent communal leaders who had associated themselves with Peace Now or the New Israel Fund were not invited— this included a former chairman of Project Renewal.
In this country, Sir Isaiah Berlin through his eminence was a notable exception, but none of the dozens of well-known personalities, — the playwright Harold Pinter, the writer Anita Brookner, the artist R. B. Kitaj — who signed the “Jews for a Just Israel” advertisement in the “Jewish Chronicle” last year, were asked.
Indeed, the absence of writers, academics and intellectuals was noticeable at the conference. Ironically, Jewish unity at the conference was preserved only through the acknowledgement that there is Jewish disunity throughout the diaspora.
Previously hesitant Jewish leaders were told without reservation that disagreement was permissible — it was the very stuff of democratic discourse. Even Prime Minister Shamir freely gave his blessing to diaspora Jews who did not agree with him. The involvement of the Labour Party through Motta Gur as one of the conference co-ordinators seemed to reassure sceptics. Therein lies the subtlety. It was possible to be anti-Shamir at the conference, but not anti-Government. Opposing Mr Shamir only meant supporting Mr Peres. Differences of opinion could only take place within the context of total support for the Unity Government. This explains why diaspora sympathisers with the peace camp in Israel were not invited or why the likes of Abba Eban, Ezer Weizman, Shulamit Aloni or Rav Amital were not permitted to address the delegates.
Although Mr Peres continues to fudge the issue, a large section of his party — and according to the latest opinion polls, a majority of the people of Israel — believe that Arafat should be tested. Significantly, the apolitical and emotive title of “Jewish solidarity with Israel” which opened the conference was transformed by its end into a more truthful declaration of political support for the Government of National Unity.
It was never intended that this should be a conference of Jewish solidarity with Israel, but only one of Jewish solidarity with the Israel Government.
Fortunately, such fan club philosophy only prevailed within the four walls of Binyanei. Ha’ooma for the duration of the conference. In this country and in Israel, both the national and Jewish press conveyed a more accurate picture of Jewish opinion to Mr Bush in good time for it to be digested prior to Mr Shamir’s arrival.
Jewish Chronicle 7 April 1989