Election not a repudiation of peace, consul general says

Enough is enough.

That's how Yossi Amrani, regional consul general of Israel, characterized the Israeli sentiments that led to the landslide victory of Ariel Sharon.

Amrani made his remarks on Tuesday afternoon, when some Jewish professionals gathered at the Jewish Community Federation building in San Francisco to participate in a United Jewish Communities-sponsored satellite hookup to Israel and New York.

The S.F.-based JCF was one of 70 federations standing by, waiting to hear post-election analysis from Israel after the polls closed and Sharon was declared the new prime minister.

But it didn't happen. The New York-based UJC representatives waited along with about 40 Bay Area leaders while the Israeli expert's voice came over with an echo.

Rather than listen to the talking heads assembled in New York, Jewish Community Relations Council President Danny Grossman turned the floor over to Amrani. The consul general, as every speaker did after him, said that the people of Israel had spoken and it was up to American Jewry to stand by Israel in what was no doubt going to become an increasingly difficult time.

Americans should not interpret Sharon's landslide as a repudiation of the peace process, Amrani said. Rather, "Israelis are sending a clear message that we mean business and that we won't compromise on our security."

Nonetheless, he emphasized, Sharon knows that negotiations with the Palestinians must resume, just not from the point where former Prime Minister Ehud Barak left off.

"No talks will be held under fire or under the threat of violence," Amrani said. "The Palestinians should seize this new opportunity to resume talks and reach an agreement acceptable to both parties. The time is now ripe to put a halt to hostile rhetoric, engage in real efforts to end violence, and start educating the Palestinian public opinion about peace and coexistence."

Amrani added: "Sharon was the first to say that Palestinians must have a state. There is no other alternative and he knows it."

Later, responding to a question about voter turnout, Amrani pointed out that almost the entire Israeli Arab population sat out the election.

"We as a society must address it," he said. "They feel they have no influence in their own country, and it won't be solved by a 4 billion shekel budget," about $1 billion.

Sam Salkin, JCF chief executive, said that the best thing the American Jewish community can do is to stay informed and be good listeners. "Irrespective of where we fall on the political spectrum, Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister," he said. "We need to take it all in before we formulate a view of what needs to happen."

Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the JCRC, said that the violence had turned this into a one-issue election. Saying that the situation has not been easy for those in the pro-Israel camp as of late, Kahn warned that it's only going to get more difficult.

"Israel is ultimately committed to making peace, and we urge you to disseminate it," he said.

Along the same lines, Ernest Weiner, regional executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said, "Ariel Sharon is an easy hit for the media and that will be exploited.

"You cannot go on the defensive," he warned. "This was a decision of a democratic state to bring about a new view of how Israel should conduct itself."

Elliot Brandt, regional director of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said the media does not do well with mixed messages. "I'm hopeful that the community will find a way to speak with one voice."

And Ed Cushman, JCF campaign director, said the election results just made the federation's work in Israel that much more important. "We support the cutting-edge projects that promote religious pluralism and Jewish-Arab coexistence."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."