ADL leader pushing for tolerance in Israel

As director of the Anti-Defamation League's office in Israel, Harry Wall "doesn't have to deal with the [Louis] Farrakhans or the neo-Nazis of the world."

In Israel, Wall added, "Even our religious right is different" from the American version.

In fact, Wall's major task is promoting understanding between American and Israeli Jews.

Yet, like ADL leaders worldwide, Wall is also committed to promoting tolerance — especially amid the fragile backdrop of the Middle East peace accords. He is also the assistant director of the ADL's International Relations Division.

"We're talking about tolerance [in Israel] among Jews and Arabs, among religious and secular, Ashkenazi and Sephardic, immigrant and native Jews," Wall said. "We can't develop peace without a basis of understanding first."

The message isn't new, Wall admits, but the medium is.

During a recent visit to San Francisco to meet with ADL leadership, Wall discussed the peace process, the role of American Jewry in furthering peace, and a new joint effort between the ADL and Israel's Ministry of Education to fight prejudice among youth.

For several months, Israel's hottest television stars have graced Israel's Cable Television Children's Channel in public service spots, telling kids"tolerance is cool," Wall said. The spots are broadcast in Hebrew and Arabic.

While some might argue that such efforts are ineffectual — most recent polls show less than 50 percent of Israelis support continuing the peace talks — Wall is confident the ADL is heading in the right direction. The large wave of immigration and the peace process, he said, "warrant even greater efforts to promote tolerance."

Besides, "support [for the peace process ] can change as soon as terrorist attacks are halted or reduced," he said. "Normalization for Israel still isn't in the cards. It shouldn't be. It isn't what most Israelis want of the process. They want security.

"Even if peace isn't achieved, peaceful coexistence must be a reality for the next generation," the group ADL is targeting.

Meanwhile, Wall's top ADL priority remains keeping the lines of communication and understanding open between U.S. Jews and the Israeli government — especially as the relationship between the two countries continues to evolve.

It's a balancing act, Wall said. Israel's profile is changing and "peacemaking raises dilemmas more complicated than rallying on behalf of Israel's survival".

"The American Jewish community is used to an Israel in trouble. An Israel that would call upon America to intervene on policies it opposed, to resist the PLO," Wall said. "In a short time, the earth moved."

In September 1993, American Jewry suddenly shifted gears as Israel and the PLO began the process designed to further Palestinian self-rule.

"It was an earthquake but most American Jews supported it," Wall said. "My view, in traveling the United States, is most American Jews support the Israeli government and the broadest parameters of the peace process."

The small but vocal U.S. segment, aligning themselves with Likud leaders opposed to the peace process, "undermines Jewish institutions [speaking] for the American Jewish consensus," Wall said. Lobbying U.S. politicians to withdraw support for the peace process by exaggerating the security threat "is not only wrong, but detrimental [to current relationships]."

American Jews lobbying against pro-peace positions of such groups as the American Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee "only confuses those on Capitol Hill" looking for direction in the Mideast, he said.

Wall, who was born and raised in Pennsylvania, instead urges American Jews to get involved with Israel by providing economic support, rather than challenging its security policy.

"Otherwise, get on a plane, make aliyah and vote in the next democraticelection," he added. "The government officials who have fought for Israel all their lives get to make these decisions, not irate Jews in the San Fernando Valley or St. Louis. Those who live in Israel will live with the consequences."