Top U.S. Jews head to central Asia to meet - Haaretz, Israel
- Top U.S. Jews head to central Asia to meet
Islamic leaders 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
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
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
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
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
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.
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