July 20, 2000
Israel's Diaspora minister brings positive message to Hadassah convention.
Despite protest demonstrations, Israelis will overwhelmingly endorse any agreement forged by Prime Minister Ehud Barak at the Camp David negotiations, Israel's minister for Diaspora affairs assured the national convention of Hadassah on Sunday evening.
Rabbi Michael Melchior noted that however hard many Israelis will have to swallow at some of their government's concessions to the Palestinians, continuing peace efforts were an imperative."We may have to fight again, but in the future Israel can only go to battle if the vast majority are convinced that everything has been done to prevent war," the Danish-born Melchior said.
Melchior addressed the opening session of the four-day convention, held at the Century Plaza Hotel and attended by some 2,500 delegates from 50 states and Puerto Rico.
Although Melchior spoke three days before his scheduled appearance, organizers heaved a sigh of relief that he showed up at all. The long-planned 86th annual convention had not expected to compete with the Camp David negotiations and lost eight Israeli and American diplomats as announced speakers.
Nevertheless, Hadassah President Bonnie Lipton of Pittsfield, Mass., called the convention a success, pointing to the participation of many young leaders and the organization's renewed dedication to Zionism and volunteerism at the beginning of the new century.
During his speech, at a separate meeting with Los Angeles rabbis at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and in an interview, Melchior touched on his own unusual role in Israeli politics.
The one-time chief rabbi of Norway, he heads the tiny Meimad party, officially defined as "modern Orthodox" and part of Barak's One Israel coalition.
Humorously describing his position vis-a-vis the much stronger fervently Orthodox parties, Melchior said, "I founded a religious party in order to get rid of religious parties and I, as a rabbi, became a cabinet minister in order to get rid of rabbis in government."
Asked about rumors in the Israeli media that he might be named to the influential post of minister of religious affairs, Melchior termed these reports sheer speculation and said he hadn't decided whether to accept if offered the position.
Then, alluding to the politicalization of religion in Israel and vast sums wasted on religious councils, Melchior added that he would head the religion ministry only "in order to dismantle it."Highlights of the convention, which ended July 19, included:
Conferral of the Henrietta Szold Award on Ronald S. Lauder, president of the Jewish National Fund, and establishment of a scholarship fund in his name to acquaint Israeli youngsters with the roots of the Ashkenazi tradition in Eastern Europe.
Launching of Voter Challenge 2000 to increase voter registration among and by Hadassah's 3,000 members in the United States.
Introduction of a Rape as a Crime in Peace and War program, particularly from a Jewish perspective.
Start of a new national program on Israel Today: Contemporary Issues, which will explore Zionism, the Law of Return, the peace process, and minorities in Israel.
Prof. Steven Spiegel of UCLA gave the Tuesday evening banquet address on the Middle East peace process.