American Presidents Conference Arrives In Israel

By Joel Leyden
Israel News Agency

Jerusalem----February 15.....More than 100 leaders the of major American Jewish organizations will convene for the 31st annual Conference of Presidents Leadership Mission to Israel, February 16-20, in Jerusalem. The assembly will explore today's major security and political issues, including the Disengagement Plan, the peace process, Iran, Iraq, US-Israel relations and the PA while also delving into the strategic, economic and social ramifications of each topic.

Among the many officials and experts scheduled to confer with the Presidents Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations in Israel are: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Vice Premier Shimon Peres, Vice Prime Minister & Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Ehud Olmert, Minister of Defense, Shaul Mofaz, Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom, Minister of Education, Culture and Sport Limor Livnat, IDF Chief of Staff Gen. Moshe Yaalon, Head of the Disengagement Administration Yonatan Bassi as well as leading strategic, academic, economic and security experts. The Conference will also visit the Erez Crossing to the Gaza Strip and meet with residents of Sderot as well as Gaza area Israeli residents.

Leaders of more than 50 Jewish organizations will arrive in Israel direct from a historic visit of the Conference of Presidents to Romania and Bulgaria, at the invitation of Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha, and Romanian President Traian Basescu.

Tourism Minister Avraham Herschson joined the American Conference of Presidents and Evangelical Christian leaders yesterday in calling on President George W. Bush to cancel a travel advisory which encourages Americans to "defer travel" to Israel.

"In light of the improved security situation, the American government should cancel the travel warning," the minister said in a press statement which coincided with a petition sent to Bush.

The petition was signed by Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and various leaders of the US Evangelical Christian community.

The ministry said that while other countries also maintain travel advisories for its citizens, none explicitly discourage travel to Israel like the American one does. Reportedly, Canada, Japan, Britain, France, Italy, Spain and others have recently relaxed their advisories for travel to Israel.

The World Tourism Organization recently proposed new guidelines for issuing such warnings, due to the damage they cause to several countries' tourism industries. A spokesman for the ministry said that according to these new guidelines there was no reason to continue such a decree against Israel.

In its most recent update to the warning the government maintained that "American citizens should remain vigilant while traveling, especially within the commercial and downtown areas of West Jerusalem and the city center."

Despite the warnings, the number of visitors from the US rose 39 percent in 2004 to some 378,000 arrivals. Since January 2002, approximately 200,000 Evangelical Christians have visited.

The ministry said that it aims to increase American Evangelical Christian visits to the country by 30%, and within three years, have one million make the trip to the Holy Land.

Recently, the Conference of Presidents wrote to President Bush requesting the release of Israeli Jonathan Pollard. The letter stated: "We write as the Jewish high holidays approach, a time of prayer and introspection. We are reminded at this time that as we seek divine compassion and forgiveness, we must show the same in our relationships with our fellow human beings. It is in that spirit that we approach you in regard to Jonathan Pollard.We believe that Mr. Pollard has paid a heavy price after more than 18 years of incarceration . He has expressed remorse for his actions, both publicly and privately."

The letter added: "Our feeling that it is time to let him rebuild his life is shared by many outstanding Americans of every religion and walk of life. Among those who have petitioned on his behalf are Members of both houses of Congress, religious leaders, Nobel laureates, public officials, and many others. As a matter of compassion and justice, we respectfully request to consider this humanitarian plea to release Mr. Pollard".

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is the voice of organized American Jewry - the proven, effective advocate on issues of vital international and national concern.

Representing 52 national Jewish organizations from across the political and religious spectrum, the Conference provides a forum for deliberations of American Jewish leadership and a central address for key American, Israeli and other world leaders to consult on issues of critical concern to the Jewish community.


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