Jews planning solidarity rally in Madison Square Garden

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NEW YORK — American Jews are poised to demonstrate their solidarity with Israel at what is being billed as an apolitical rally at Madison Square Garden a few weeks from now.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations clearly is navigating a delicate path as it plans the event amid the minefield of peace-process politics.

Prime Minister Shimon Peres has accepted "in principle" an invitation to appear, according to Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the conference.

President Bill Clinton, slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's widow Leah Rabin and Israel's Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yisrael Lau have also been invited to the event, which is slated for Dec. 9 or 10.

The conference decided to organize the event as a memorial to Rabin and as "a demonstration of solidarity with the new government and people of Israel and the pursuit of peace," and to unify the community, said Hoenlein.

That exact wording was used by a source at the Israeli Consulate to describe the event, underscoring the sensitivities surrounding its planning.

"Everyone involved knows that unity is one of the goals of the event," said the Israeli, who declined to be identified.

Hoenlein said the event is being carefully framed so that it is "acceptable to all segments of the community." Everyone "should be able to come and participate under this banner."

At the same time, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council is taking a more partisan stand, planning a peace-process advocacy day in Washington, D.C.

As for the rally, despite organizers' best efforts to be inclusive, it was clear that bringing together the fragmented community would be a challenge.

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America and a frequent critic of the Israeli government's peace policies, this week said he had not yet decided whether to attend.

He said that for him and other mainstream critics, it would depend on, among other issues, whether opposition parties are represented.

"We're very worried" that if there is not broad-based representation, "it will appear only one side is searching for peace," Klein said.

Meanwhile, the consulate is clearly closely involved in planning the rally, but Hoenlein was eager to clarify that it is an American Jewish initiative.

American Jewish leadership has been under fire in recent weeks from some Israeli officials for not showing sufficient support for the government and the peace process in the months before Rabin's assassination. Hoenlein said the conference has planned other actions in the wake of Rabin's death, including sending a delegation to Israel to attend ceremonies marking the end of the 30-day mourning period.