Rabbis must not be allowed to destroy the fabric of Jewish unity, President Shimon Peres told a meeting Tuesday with a 30-member delegation of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
After discussing the security situation, Peres thanked the conference members for coming to Israel, saying: ”Your solidarity is meaningful. War is not just shooting. The greatest weapon is the morale of the people.”
He then made two requests.
“We have to agree not to split,” he said. “We cannot allow rabbis to arrive at a point where we cannot be together. While we live geographically separated, we have to be spiritually united.”
Peres said that while Jewish teachings are subject to different interpretations, the most important thing is for the Jewish people to remain united.
”The Jewish people historically has paid a high price for being Jewish,” he said.
“If the rabbis want to decide who is a Jew, Jews have to decide who is a rabbi,” he continued.
His second request was more political.
Because there has always been bipartisan support for Israel on the part of the United States, he said he does not wish to create the impression that Jews support only one party.
“We want you to support two parties in America,” he said.
Earlier, the president spoke of the great friendship and assistance that America had given Israel over the years. Initially, he recalled, when he had asked president John Kennedy for rifles, he met with refusal. Later, however, Kennedy agreed to the sale of Hawk anti-aircraft missiles, and since then every US president, whether Democrat or Republican, had enabled Israel to acquire weapons and planes.
As for the situation in Gaza, Peres voiced doubts about the unity of Hamas, saying that the extremists had taken over and thus brought catastrophe “that only terrorists can bring upon themselves.”
Peres said he does not consider a cease-fire to be a solution in itself and he takes no pleasure in seeing people suffering and houses destroyed in Gaza.
“The solution must be political, not military” he said, in hopes that the US will put the political options back on the table.
Only the Palestinian Authority – not Israel or Egypt – has legitimacy over Gaza he said, but that does not mean that Israel would let Gazans run wild with the purpose of killing Israelis.
“The purpose of a government is to defend its citizens,” he declared.
Peres clarified that the agreement signed with Yasser Arafat at the White House more than 20 years ago was between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization and not between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
Arafat made the distinction, having balked at the original wording by the Americans because he wanted the agreement to state that he represented the PLO. Israel agreed and the wording was duly changed.