Olmert and U.S. Jews / A Divided Welcome

NEW YORK - The Jewish Orthodox community in the United States is fiercely divided over how it should respond to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's visit to Washington.

Ahead of the visit, several Orthodox organizations and synagogues have called on religious U.S. Jews to participate in a demonstration against Olmert scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, when the prime minister will be meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush.

In contrast, on Friday the leaders of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (UOJCA), a leading umbrella organization in the religious Jewish community, published a special statement rejecting the planned protest against Olmert.

The demonstration's organizers, who also opposed the disengagement from Gaza, say the protest is a must because Olmert's visit is designed to promote the convergence plan, which will involve the evacuation of settlements.

"Congratulations to those who were involved in the fight for Gush Katif; congratulations for seeing past the lies and illusions that knocked out too many other Jews from fighting; congratulations for not buying in to the claim that this 'disengagement' will make Jews safer in Israel," reads the announcement from the demonstration's organizers.

"The Israeli government is handing victory after victory to Hamas and the ilk, and the withdrawal is rewarding terrorists for their efforts," the announcement continues, and goes on to define the government of Israel as one "that uses riot police, border police and the army to evacuate and beat its own citizens."

In response to the announcement, the leaders of the UOJCA, executive president Steven Savitsky and his deputy Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Weinreb, published a statement of their own.

"We, the Orthodox Union, believe that it is inappropriate at this time to hold a rally in Washington D.C. to express differences with the democratically elected prime minister of Israel," they write.

"Prime Minister Olmert is making his first official visit to the United States, where he will meet with the president of the Jewish state's strongest ally ... In this context, the Orthodox Union believes the appropriate address to express concern or differences with the elected prime minister is in Jerusalem, not Washington."

Meanwhile, Israel's consul general in New York, Aryeh Mekel, said on Friday that he had had meetings recently with Orthodox leaders to discuss the convergence plan. Mekel says the organizers of the demonstration against Olmert represent very small sectors of the community