If the supporters of the Likud Party have their way, the Golan Heights will be on the lips of every Jewish New Yorker next month.
"Have the Golan on your table for Rosh HaShanah," is the theme of a new campaign the American Friends of Likud is launching to encourage New Yorkers to drink wine from the vineyards of the Golan Heights on the Jewish New Year. It is to remind New Yorkers of Likud’s position against Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights in any peace treaty with Syria.
The campaign comes at a time when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is also leader of Israel’s Labor Party, is urging Syrian President Hafez Assad to seize an "historic opportunity" to make peace with Israel.
Syria has demanded that Israel return the entire Golan Heights that Israel captured from it in the Six-Day War in 1967. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Nawaf Masalha, the first Israeli Arab to hold that position, told the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat last week that he believed "only a few kilometers" separated the Israeli and Syria positions and that a peace agreement could be reached within 18 months.
Naomi Blumenthal, chair of the Likud World Movement, said her party is convinced that peace with Syria is possible without an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. She noted that former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir, the then-Likud leader, attended the Madrid peace conference in 1991 without giving up anything and that Syria’s foreign minister attended. But when Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin of the Labor Party was reportedly willing to return the Golan, no senior Syrian officials were willing to meet with him.
"What did we learn from this?" she asked rhetorically. "We learned that we can give up everything and still they won’t meet us."
Blumenthal, in an interview here during her 10-day trip to the United States, said Rosh HaShanah "sets the tone for the new year and we want every Jewish family to make a resolution that they believe the Golan should be part of their lives, as it is Israelis’."
Philip Rosen, a co-president of American Friends of Likud, said his organization is "putting out the message that support for the Golan is necessary and that one of the easiest ways to support the Golan is to buy wine from the Golan. That will show the importance of the vineyards of Golan and of the Golan itself."
Asked if the issue of the Golan Heights has resonance with American Jews, Rosen replied: "The Golan has always been important for the security of Israel and I don’t think that has changed. Likud wants peace just as much as anyone in Israel; we’ll leave the negotiations to the people in power. But we want to remind people in this country and in Israel of the importance of the Golan on both a personal level and a security level."
Blumenthal said the American Friends of Likud is also considering setting up an Israeli office in the Golan and buying an apartment there for that purpose. And she said Likud is starting a new slogan in Israel and around the world, "I am with the Golan."
She said it would be launched after the Sept. 2 Likud elections in Israel for party leader. There are 150,000 Israelis eligible to vote and Blumenthal said polls last week showed former Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon leading with 42 percent, former Likud parliamentary whip Meir Shitreet with 22 percent, and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert with 18 percent. She said she and most of the Likud members of parliament favor Sharon.
Sharon, Blumenthal pointed out, is the only one of the three to promise new party elections in two years to permit members to decide at that time who the party’s nominee will be for prime minister in 2003. The other two candidates say a vote for them means they will be the Likud candidate in four years and that they will spend the time building the party and preparing to be its nominee, she said.
"The people who support Sharon want the political arena open and many of them want Bibi back," Blumenthal said, using the nickname of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "I’m a big supporter of Bibi."
After his defeat by Barak in the May 17 elections, Netanyahu resigned his seat in the Knesset and said he was taking a time out from politics. But he pointedly did not rule out a return.
"He was mistreated by the media," said Blumenthal. "If he had acted the way Barak is now (not paying attention to the public and enlarging the cabinet from 18 to 23 members) the media would have said he was a criminal."
Blumenthal, who said she spent her time in the U.S. meeting with Likud supporters to help rebuild the party here, said she believed that new party elections in two years would help the party flourish by encouraging internal discussions.
"We don’t have to come up with a new ideology (it’s fine for Israel) but we need to deepen it and to make people believe in it."
That ideology is based on the need for strong security.
"We don’t have yet our final borders," she explained. Giving up the "would be a crucial mistake because our security, well being and existence have to do with the land. The left wing and Labor parties say, ‘What do you need settlements for?’ But our ideology is that if we don’t have those settlements, we won’t have peace. If we don’t have the Golan Heights, we won’t have peace."