EJC candidates trade barbs

Israeli delegates to the conference: My attendance was compared to the Natorei Karta going to Teheran.

EJC president 224.88 (photo credit: Russian Jewish Congress)
EJC president 224.88
(photo credit: Russian Jewish Congress)
The vociferous campaigning for the presidency of the European Jewish Congress reached Israel this week as local supporters of the two candidates, Russian Jewish Congress president Viatcheslav Kantor and incumbent EJC president Pierre Besnainou, traded accusations and barbs. The exchanges centered around the International Conference on Preventing a Nuclear Catastrophe, held last week in Luxembourg and chaired by Kantor. His opponents for the EJC presidency had called members of the Likud Central Committee and Foreign Ministry officials, asking them to convince the two Israeli delegates to the conference, Prof. Uzi Arad and Dr. Eli Levite, not to attend, The Jerusalem Post was told. "We are shocked at Besnainou's methods," said one Kantor representative in Israel on Thursday. "He's using the Likud central committee and government officials to criticize Kantor ahead of the elections," he told the Post. When questioned, Arad, who has publicly supported Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu in the past, confirmed the claim. "A senior activist in the Likud called me before the conference [last week] and said people had been calling and saying horrible things about the conference, that it was pro-Iran and my attending would be like the Natorei Karta going to Teheran." Arad also believed the Foreign Ministry had been called in an effort to prevent senior Atomic Energy Commission official Levite from attending. Besnainou denied that such calls had been made from his camp. "I don't know anybody in the Likud central committee," he said, but noted that he shared the concern of some that the conference was not in Israel's interests. "My feeling is that it isn't good for a Jewish organization to be running a conference in Luxembourg in which a [declaration proposal] paper includes mention of a nuclear-free Middle East zone," he said. He was referring to a document drawn up ahead of last week's conference in which several points for debate were raised. Among these, article two sought to raise the issue of the "signing and ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty by all UN members," which would bring Israel under the aegis of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Article eight, meanwhile, asked attendees to discuss "ways to create a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East using the carrot and stick approach," including "providing NATO security safeguards for Israel in exchange for Israel's further gradual nuclear disarmament." Israel has never said it possesses nuclear weapons, but neither has it denied having them, and sees this ambiguity as a pillar of its deterrent policy. Israel is not a signatory of the NPT. Nevertheless, said a Kantor supporter, "the noise surrounding the document" was unfair. "This draft wasn't even presented by Kantor, but by some of the participating organizations, and just gives a series of issues to be raised," he added, noting that "the issue of Israel was dropped during the conference."