Bronfman calls on Bush to press Sharon on separation fence issue

A letter to the US president has whipped up a storm among Jewish leaders.

World Jewish Congress president Edgar Bronfman Sr. has called on US President George W. Bush to pressure Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over construction of the Green Line separation fence, according to documents obtained by "Globes".

Bronfman and Lawrence Eagleburger wrote to Bush on the eve of the Bush-Sharon meeting in Washington last week. Eagleburger was the Secretary of State at the end of President George Bush Sr.'s term in 1992 and currently heads the international committee examining the insurance policies of Holocaust victims.

"Straightforwardness and consideration"

Bronfman and Eagleburger welcomed Bush's prior meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen) and Bush's demand that the Palestinians take decisive action against terror. They then continued:

"We agree that it is critical for both sides to build the confidence needed for the other side to take the difficult steps its is called upon to take. That is why the separation wall is so complicated and potentially problematic. And it is why addressing the matter of incitement is so critical.

"We hope you will skillfully apply the same straightforwardness and consideration in your meetings with Prime Minister Sharon tomorrow. We know that the investment you have made in promoting a new Palestinian leadership requires close cooperation from Israel's leaders. They too must be ready to build confidence, particularly with regard to the difficult issue of settlement activity, which at the appropriate time must be frozen under the terms of the Road Map. At the same time, Israel's concerns about sensitive issues like the release of prisoners with 'blood on their hands' deserves the kind of understanding you have already demonstrated."

"Outrageous act"

Bronfman and Eagleburger's unprecedented letter has ignited a firestorm among Jewish leaders. World Jewish Congress senior vice president Isi Leibler called on Bronfman to resign over the letter - another unprecedented act.

Leibler wrote to Bronfman yesterday, "On a cursory glance your letter reads like an objective 'even-handed' State Department release calling on both Israelis and Palestinians to adhere to their obligations to the road map, taking care not to even hint as to which party is responsible for the conflict.

"But buried amongst these even-handed platitudes is an intervention by the President of the World Jewish Congress to President George W. Bush urging him to stand firm on the one critical security issue in which there are serious differences between the policies of the United States and the government of Israel…

"By this, you have initiated an outrageous act that stands in defiance of the broad consensus of the World Jewish Congress constituency, unbefitting to the President of that organization. Without a doubt that broad consensus seeks to maximize its support of the policies determined by the democratically elected government of Israel during these difficult times."

Liebler adds, You have in the past expressed other odd ideas about Israel, but your most recent foray is much more serious and has crossed every red line… your intervention - irrespective as to whether you formally used your presidential title or not - can only be described as an act of perfidy which will not swept under the carpet."

"Private fiefdom"

Liebler asks, "Does the President of the World Jewish Congress have any accountability to others in the organization? Is the WJC a personal fiefdom which a powerful individual can exploit as he sees fit as a platform to promote his personal agenda, irrespective of the opinion of his colleagues and of other Jewish leaders? Is such behavior legitimate even when the views are contrary to the policies of the government of Israel, affect the life and death of Israeli citizens, and are addressed to the President of the United States? Does the concept of governance have any applicability or relevance whatsoever to the WJC?

"Even if I were not now living in Israel I would be appalled by your act. Indeed I do not believe you will find a single elected Jewish communal leader who would approve your deed.

Sir. I request that you retract and apologize forthwith. Otherwise, I call on you to resign. Enough is enough! We have sufficient enemies without having a person titled President of the World Jewish Congress undermining policies of the government of Israel on what are indisputably security-related issues that enjoy the support of the vast majority of Israelis of all political persuasions."

Bronfman has been WJC president since 1981. He rescued the WJC from bankruptcy, supported the campaign against former UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, and played a key role in the negotiations over the property of Holocaust victims.

Leibler is also a prominent businessman, and headed the Australian Jewish community before immigrating to Israel.

Published by Globes [online] - www.globes.co.il - on August 5, 2003

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