Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf called a top American Jewish communal leader this week to say that earthquake-torn Pakistan would accept emergency assistance from Israel.
The call from Musharraf to Jack Rosen, chairman of the American Jewish Congress – Council for World Jewry, came Tuesday, just two days after Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told the Cabinet that Israel’s offer of humanitarian aid to both Pakistan and India had not received a response.
Musharraf, who has undertaken a rapprochement with Israel and its American supporters in recent months and spoke last month at an AJCongress dinner in New York, told Rosen that Pakistan would in fact welcome assistance from Israel and American Jews following last week’s massive earthquake, according to a statement from the AJCongress
Arye Mekel, Israel’s consul general in New York, said on Wednesday, however, that while Israel expects an official request from Pakistan, it has yet to receive one.
The earthquake is believed to have killed at least 23,000 and injured 47,000.
Israel offered aid immediately after Musharraf announced that Pakistan requested international assistance in responding to the natural disaster. Shalom’s comments at the Israeli Cabinet meeting prompted the Zionist Organization of America to fire off a statement criticizing both Musharraf and Jewish leaders for their embrace of Pakistan’s recent overtures.
Morton Klein, president of ZOA, issued a lengthy, highly critical statement on Musharraf’s speech last month to American Jewish leaders. Though Musharraf called for an end to terrorism and praised Israel’s Gaza pullout, Klein slammed the Pakistani leader for not signaling out Palestinian suicide bombings and for demanding concessions from Israel but not from the Palestinian Authority.
Klein’s comments stood in stark contrast to the more favorable assessment of scholar Daniel Pipes, a frequent critic of Muslim leaders’ reluctance to speak out against radical Islam.
In sharp contrast to Klein, Pipes praised Musharraf’s speech. In a column for The New York Sun, he wrote, “Most news coverage of the Musharraf speech focused on the prospect of Pakistan opening diplomatic relations with Israel, but what is potentially of lasting importance about the Musharraf address — beyond the mere fact of its being delivered to a Jewish organization — was the president’s respectful, accurate, and constructive comments about Jews.”
This week, ZOA was quick to jump on reports that Pakistan had yet to respond to Israeli offers of assistance. The organization used the opportunity to restate its criticisms of both Musharraf’s speech and the “standing ovation” that he received from Jewish communal leaders.
But according to an AJCongress statement issued Tuesday, Musharraf is accepting financial support and equipment from Israel and from American Jewish organizations. As a result, the AJCongress said that along with several American Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the American Jewish World Service, it has begun raising funds for Pakistan relief.
Musharraf has said repeatedly that Pakistan would establish formal ties with Israel only after Jerusalem resolves its conflict with the Palestinians. But Musharraf has taken several recent steps to signal a willingness to open some channels before this happens.
In addition to his appearance at the AJCongress-sponsored dinner last month, which took place in conjunction with the United Nations General Assembly, Musharraf authorized his foreign minister to meet Shalom in Istanbul. On the sidelines of the U.N. parley, Musharraf shook hands with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon.
Visits to Israel by Pakistani officials are in the works, although they might be postponed because of the earthquake.