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Agudath Israel of America - National Public Policy Position Paper

IV. INTERNATIONAL ISSUES

Last, but most certainly not least, Agudath Israel maintains a vital interest in American foreign policy and international events.

In its traditional historical role as haven for oppressed persons "yearning to breathe free," and in its contemporary role as leader of the free world, the United States stands alone in its ability to influence the conduct of international affairs. It is a privilege for Agudath Israel to convey its appreciation to the American government for steadfastly adhering to American ideals in dealing with the nations and people of the world.

Jewish people the world over, in Israel and in lands where Jews are oppressed simply because they are Jews, regard the United States as their most powerful friend and ally. That is so, in large measure, because of the policies of our government. Agudath Israel's interest in those policies can be classified under two broad headings: the Middle East, and human rights.

The Middle East

Agudath Israel joins with all other segments of the American Jewish community in urging that the United States continue to promote the security and well being of the State of Israel. Treating Israel as the ally it in fact is indeed, the only truly reliable ally the free world has in the Middle East is a policy that has reaped and will continue to reap substantial benefits for the United States. Our government must not permit occasional divergences of opinion to obscure the basic truth that this country has both a moral and strategic imperative to support the Jewish State.

The United States has an important, and in many ways unique, role to play in the Middle East peace process. Agudath Israel commends the Clinton Administration for its devotion to the cause of peace. At the same time, Agudath Israel remains deeply concerned about the long-term prospects for lasting peace in light of the continuing inability of large numbers of Palestinians and Arabs to accept the reality of the Jewish State. In this connection, the sudden embrace by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat of pre-partition U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947 should be rejected and condemned for the cynical ploy that it clearly is.

Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel. For Israel's closest friend effectively to deny this fact by maintaining its embassy in Tel Aviv is extremely troubling, and Agudath Israel calls upon the United States to address this anomalous situation as soon as is practicable. In addition, the American government should refrain from pressuring Israel to relinquish any of its sovereignty over the Holy City, which has always been the object of Jewish aspirations through millennia of Diaspora wandering.

Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is not confined by any means to the Middle East itself. Agudath Israel strongly supports the efforts to combat international terrorism wherever it may take place. The intelligence community must attach the highest priority toward combating this epidemic; law enforcement officials must upgrade the security provided to potential targets of these wanton murderers; and American dollars must not be permitted to flow to international terrorist groups. Agudath Israel was thus a staunch advocate of the 1996 federal anti-terrorism legislation, which embodied many of these concepts.

Human Rights and Immigration

The plight of oppressed Jews the world over has long occupied a prominent position on Agudath Israel's agenda. From the darkest days of the Holocaust era, through the 1956 Hungarian revolution, and even today when Jews face economic or social persecution in various lands of oppression, Agudath Israel has stood in the forefront of American Jewry's rescue and relief activities on behalf of less fortunate Jewish communities around the globe.

Through its firm and consistent emphasis upon issues of human rights, the United States sends a message of hope and support to those who are persecuted solely because they seek to practice or learn about their religious heritage. By establishing policies and enacting laws that reflect this nation's concern for basic humanitarian values, including the fundamental rights to travel across borders without unjustified restriction and to practice one's religion freely and openly, the United States puts other countries on notice that abuses of human dignity will not be tolerated.

The recent imprisonment of 13 Iranian Jews who have been falsely accused of spying for Israel and America is cause for great alarm – not only for the safety of these 13 individuals, but for the well-being of the entire population of Iranian Jewry, currently estimated as being in excess of 25,000. The urgency of effective diplomatic efforts to secure the release of these prisoners cannot be overstated.

Our nation can take a great deal of the credit for the fall of the Soviet Union and the movement toward democracy in the C.I.S. nations and Central and Eastern Europe. Agudath Israel supports the ongoing efforts to assist these former bastions of communism in transforming their economies and political structures to bring them more closely into line with the Western democracies. At the same time, the growing strength of certain nationalistic movements -- which, among other things, exhibit frightening aspects of virulent anti-Semitism -- is cause for great concern. America must remain ever-vigilant in this highly unstable corner of the globe.

Another aspect of humanitarian foreign policy that is of great concern to Agudath Israel relates to the restitution of Jewish property and preservation of Jewish cemeteries in countries where Jews once thrived but were eventually persecuted and driven away. The people and government of the United States are instrumental voices of moral authority in seeking to right historical wrongs. Agudath Israel, which has long been in the forefront of efforts on behalf of Holocaust survivors, has worked closely with such groups as the World Jewish Restitution Organization and the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad; and commends Congress and the Clinton Administration for their tireless efforts in this regard.

Finally, in the area of immigration, Agudath Israel urges that American borders continue to be open to Jewish and other refugees who seek to come to the United States after escaping from oppressive political environments. The United States is a nation of immigrants and has long been distinguished by its generosity toward refugees from all across the globe. It is essential that such generosity continue to be maintained in today's era of international volatil ity. Agudath Israel accordingly opposes any efforts to impose caps or quotas on refugees seeking safe haven in the United States. Agudath Israel further supports the provision of welfare benefits to needy non-citizen immigrants.

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