Prime Minister Sharon came to New York for the United Nations General Assembly, but he stayed on for the weekend to meet with Jewish communal leaders and donors.
On Friday, Sharon met with close to 150 top donors to the United Jewish Communities, the national roof body of North America’s local Jewish charitable federations, to raise money for Operation Promise — a new campaign to help Jews in Ethiopia and in the former Soviet Union.
Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Zeev Bielski reported that Sharon raised $60 million at the event. The agency is co-sponsoring Operation Promise. Bielski, whose organization is partially funded by the UJC, said that Sharon’s aides did not want Sharon to attend the gathering, following last week’s United Nations General Assembly, because his time would be better spent back in Israel. However, Bielski and a top Sharon adviser said that the premier insisted on staying in New York in an effort to demonstrate his commitment to American Jews.
“He stayed over the weekend, with his precarious political position to meet with the Jewish leadership — to strengthen the Israel solidarity,” said Ranaan Gissin, Sharon’s media adviser. “He devoted two full days to them.”
One of the visits with American supporters has landed him in trouble. Israel’s attorney general is investigating a private house party that Sharon attended this past Saturday night. According to news reports, the hostess asked that guests pay at least $10,000 — more than the $7,800 campaign contribution that is allowed by Israeli law — to Sharon’s campaign against his Likud Party challenger, Benyamin Netanyahu.
Gissin said that the investigation is “nitpicking” and that “whoever decided to make it a fund-raising event — they made poor judgment — but [Sharon’s] not going to be distracted by that.”
On Sunday, Sharon spoke at the Palace Hotel in front of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. He stressed the importance of American Jews immigrating to Israel, and then took a not-so-veiled swipe at Netanyahu.
“It would be a mistake to hand the situation to radicals in the current complicated situation,” Sharon said.
He joked that he had been away from Israel for a week and needed to return if he wanted to remain prime minister. But Sharon and his aides were triumphant after the trip.
“Sharon is the winner of this year’s General Assembly, and all because of the disengagement and the hope it engendered,” Gissin said. “For the first time in the history of this G.A., the onus of proof is on the Palestinians and the Arab countries. Israel has done its share.”