Tamar Snyder’s article, “AJCongress Rides Off Into The Sunset” (July 23) and Naomi Levine’s letter (Aug. 13), appropriately describe AJCongress’ historical accomplishments in the arena of civil rights and women’s equality. No retrospection of AJCongress’ achievements can be complete, however, without reference to the contributions it made in international affairs, particularly during the period that Henry Siegman served as executive director.
In 1987, for example, when my predecessor, Ted Mann, was president, an AJCongress task force concluded that Israel could not remain both a Jewish and democratic state unless it separated itself from the territories it occupied in the 1967 war. Articulated during the administration of Likud’s Yitzhak Shamir, this position was not popular in the organized Jewish community. But now, of course, even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated his support for a two-state solution.
AJCongress was the first Jewish organization to be invited officially to visit Saudi Arabia and meet many of its leaders. Ultimately, what came out of that relationship was the initiative of Saudi King Abdullah and the Arab states to agree to establish full diplomatic, social and economic relations with Israel upon settlement of the Palestinian issue. AJCongress was also the first American Jewish organization to meet with Yasir Arafat, in October 1993.
In 1989 AJCongress leadership met with Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the primate of Poland, and helped reduce tensions arising from the construction of a Carmelite convent in Auschwitz, encouraging the cardinal to support removing the convent and take other steps to improve understanding between the Polish Catholic church and the Jewish community.
These are a few examples illustrating AJCongress’ willingness to take difficult or unpopular positions that later became widely accepted in order to build relationships to help Israel and the American Jewish community.
The writer was president of the AJCongress from 1988-1994.