Wed 12 Feb, 2003 01:31 pm
Top U.S. Jews head to central Asia to meet
By David Landau, Haaretz Correspondent
American Jewish leaders are to meet Thursday in Kazakhstan with leaders of that and neighboring central Asian republics.
"This is the place to build a firewall between Islamic fundamentalism" and moderate Islam, said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Ronald Lauder, the former chairman of the Conference of Presidents and a prominent investor and philanthropist in the countries of the former Soviet Union, is leading the mission of some 50 American Jewish representatives.
Among the regional statesmen they hope to meet with Thursday are Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, the presidents of Tajikistan and Kajistan and senior ministers from Turkey, Azerbaijan and Afghanistan.
The Jewish group will be bringing messages of support from U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Powell, as well as from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Hoenlein said that Bush had been personally involved and supportive in preparations for this mission. Sharon has sent two representatives to accompany the mission and Israeli diplomats serving in the region will attend the various meetings and briefings.
"Many of these states have been encroached upon by Islamic fundamentalism operating out of Iran, Afghanistan and even China," Hoenlein said. "There is a domino threat in the region. If one state falls, its neighbors could go too."
The central Asian republics were trying to fend off these influences, Hoenlein said, and they sought "not money but love and attention from the West."
Hoenlein said the Conference of Presidents had begun its discreet diplomatic overtures towards central Asia back in the mid-90s.
"I went first to Yitzhak Rabin to discuss this," the conference sent a mission to Uzbekistan in 1996 and it was in part thanks to the success of that venture, Hoenlein said, that Uzbekistan established diplomatic relations with Israel the following year. "Sometimes we can have access in places before the Israeli government."
Hoenlein noted that there was "potentially more energy in the Caspian basin than in the Persian Gulf." This made the regional countries "juicy targets" for hostile takeovers. But it also offers them a bright future for modernization and democratization. "The money that will flow will change these countries."
The Jewish leaders will be meeting Friday with senior executives of American energy companies active in central Asia and the Kazakh minister of energy Vladimir Shkolnik, himself Jewish.
The four-day mission will also include dialogue between the Jewish leaders and Muslim clerics in the region. Hoenlein said that the purpose was to help head off the much feared "clash of civilizations" and rather to encourage "the beginning of dialogue between civilizations, as these Muslim clerics themselves call it."
The American Jewish leaders will be hosted by the heads of the Eurasian Jewish Congress led by Alexander Mashkevitz, who heads the 20,000-strong Kazakh Jewish community. The presidents conference will present a sefer Torah to the local Jewish community which until now, according to Hoenlein, has had to make do with only one serviceable scroll.
Do you think this meeting of Jewish and Muslim leaders will help ease current tensions in the Persian Gulf, and perhaps future tensions in the Caspian Basin area? Or is this more like a tiny boat rowing against the tide of fundamentalism?
<crossing my fingers and toes>
I hat to be the wet blanket, Boss, but i don't think that fundamentalist, Christian, Islamic or Jewish, will pay any heed. Those who wish to bomb abortion clinics, or American skyscrapers, or Palestinian appartment buildings, will do so without regard to the voices of reason raised in central Asia.
Like little k, I can only wish them luck. Certainly no harm in trying.
Setanta, that's pretty much what I think, that this will be a grand experiment and will be covered in the press and all, but in the greater scheme of things, it may not do much. Still, we can hope.
Yes, and perhaps the aggregate of such efforts may someday lead those of reason and consideration in the communities in which fundamentalist zealots live to take the actions necessary to protect the world from the worst effects.
perhaps it'll plant healthy seeds in fertile minds.
These news could seem encouraging, if the headline conformed the contents. Unfortunately, it does not.
First, there is no Jewish civilization. Its erosion started with emancipation of the European Jews, and its remnants were extinguished in '30s-'50s by Hitler and Stalin. Israel is a modern democratic state, and she does not represent any specific Jewish civilization. Intermarriages did the rest. We can regard now the Judo-Christian civilization, that is also known as the Western one, and Israel is a part of this system.
From the other side, Mr. Nazarbayev can hardly be called a Muslim leader. Technically, he is Muslim. Maybe, he even attends some mosque from time to time, mainly for public relations purpose, but not for talking to God. Azeri President, former KGB general Haydar Aliyev has even committed a hajj. But I cannot believe in such a fast transformation of the former member of the Soviet Politburo into a pious Muslim.
The post-Soviet Muslim republics are Muslim only by definition. In fact, they are being ruled by the absolutely secular regimes, having ideologic basis something in the middle between these of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Gamal Abed el-Nasser (only without virulent anti-Semitism characteristic to the latter). The post-Soviet Central Asian leaders regard Islamic fundamentalism being the greatest threat to their power, and they suppress Islam domestically without any regards to the human rights protection conventions, just in the way Saddam treated his Shi'ite subjects.
From the very moment of their establishment these regimes had favorable relation toward the USA and Israel, regarding these countries their natural allies against the Islamic fundamentalist threat.
The very fact of development of ties between these countries and the USA is positive, but it has no influence on the U.S. or Israeli relationships with the Muslim world: these countries have no influence on the latter.
Interesting, and new to me, information on the post-Soviet Central Asian leaders, steissd. Thanks for sharing it with us.
Well, I have access to the Russian sources both on- and offline. All these countries once were parts of the Russian Empire/USSR, therefore Russian media have specific interest to them, and Russians understand the processes taking place there better than the Westerners do.
You cannot hope to find peace in a vacuum. In other words, the people from the Palestinian side that are responsible for the suicide bombing and the Israelis that can make changes to current policies must be involved in any peace negotiation. When they are too far removed, those meetings have no relevance or impact. c.i.
The suicide bombers' launchers refuse to negotiate. Egyptians try to pressurize the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders to armistice, but with no success. And no negotiations are possible without armistice.
I'm with Setanta here. Its a pretty gesture ... almost endearing, really, wonderfully naive and utopian. It will fare about as well as such initiatives have done for millenia. Pity.