Prime Minister Ariel Sharon delivered a speech before about 1,200 American Jewish leaders in New York’s Baruch College, receiving a strong show of support over the upcoming pullout plan.
Those in attendance included major donors and Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox leaders, who praised Sharon and stressed their support for his policies.
The six speakers who addressed the audience before the prime minister were senior Jewish education figures, who said the American Jewish community stands united behind the Israeli government.
In his speech, Sharon addressed the disengagement plan, spoke of the danger of assimilation, and stressed the need to bring another million Jews to Israel in the next 15 years.
The future of the Jewish people also depends on Israel’s character as a Jewish, democratic state, the prime minister said, and added this was the spirit behind the disengagement plan.
The upcoming Gaza Strip and northern West Bank pullout would boost Israel’s security and serve as an opportunity to initiate talks with the Palestinians, he said.
The withdrawal would also serve to ensure a Jewish majority in Israel and allow Israelis to keep important Jews sites forever, he said.
However, Sharon also noted the decision to evacuate settlements was a difficult one for him, but said the Jewish people was able to overcome tough challenges before and would do so again.
Lubavitch crash Sharon visit
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was met Sunday evening with curses from anti-disengagement protesters, many of them of Lubavitch Hasidim, while speaking to New York Jewish leaders in Baruch College.
During the speech, which lasted twenty minutes, part of the audience stood up, cursed the prime minister and chanted anti-disengagement slogans.
According to one of those present, the episode “was extremely embarrassing and completely alien to the American mentality.”
After a couple of disturbances, including one in which a heckler called Sharon an “a--hole,” the prime minister responded with a sarcastic “thank you.” The protesters were ejected from the hall and Sharon finished his speech, which was met with thunderous applause.
Hundreds demonstrated outside Baruch College, screaming at Sharon “Shame on you.”
New York City Police arrested a number of protesters for disturbing the peace.
Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpe, a member of Land of Israel Forum maintaining contact with Chabad Hasidim in New York, told Ynet, “Every Jew can help in the struggle against the uprooting and expulsion plan.”
Asked why hassidim not living in Israel would bother to get involved in the issue, Wolpe responded, “Sharon himself traveled abroad to speak with Jews in the Diaspora, to listen to them and be influenced by them, even though they do not live here. We’re talking about Jews with family here.”
Sharon: Disengagement won’t be delayed
Earlier Sunday, Sharon responded to Israeli press reports suggesting that the government would delay disengagement past its current August deadline.
He said the reports were “baseless” and “disengagement would be carried out on schedule.”
A member of Sharon’s entourage responded to articles about corruption in the public sector: “There’s no doubt that something must be done to change the situation, but regarding Ma’ariv’s campaign, someone ought to examine what is behind it.”
Asked if he meant that there was a partisan motive behind the newspaper’s anti-corruption campaign, the entourage member responded, “I didn’t say that.”
Saturday night, Sharon flew to the U.S. on what his aides described as a meeting of “mutual support between the prime minister and the Jewish community in the last stretch ahead of the disengagement.”
Saturday night, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Danny Ayalon flew to New York from Washington to meet Sharon as he landed.
Ayalon accompanied Sharon during his visit with New York Jewry and will be with him when he makes his appearance Tuesday before the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC in Washington.
Sharon, who appointed Ayalon to his position, is very satisfied with him and wants to extend his term by a year. However, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Saturday that he would extend the ambassador’s term when it expires in autumn.