NEW YORK (Jul. 11)
Irving M. Engel, president of the American Jewish Committee, said at a press conference here today, that in his special audience with Pope Pius XII, he was “encouraged to believe that the Pope is vitally concerned with a constructive program in the Middle East designed to lead to a durable peace in that troubled part of the world.”
At the same time, Mr. Engel reported on the basis of his conferences with Vatican dignitaries, that high Roman Catholic officials are interested in achieving a “practical” rather than a “legalistic” solution to the problem of free access and protection of the Holy Places in Israel and Jordan. He stressed that “the Papal attitude of sympathetic understanding toward Israel may well serve as a constructive force for the achievement of just and durable peace in the Middle East.”
Mr. Engel said he was assured by high Roman dignitaries in the Vatican, “of a decided attitude to combat the age-old problem of discrimination against Jews as well as of a view full of sympathy and understanding with respect to Israel.” He hailed the Pope’s statement which deplored all types of discrimination, including anti-Semitism and his “eloquent words urging the countries of the world to provide safe haven for victims of persecution.”
Mr. Engel emphasized the American Jewish Committee’s view that the problem of the Holy Places “could be solved, with full retention of sovereignty, by the creation of an international commission to supervise the Holy Places, preferably under the aegis of the United Nations.”
IMPRESSED BY ISRAEL’S ORIENTATION TOWARDS WESTERN DEMOCRACIES
In reference to his visit to Israel, Mr. Engel announced that his delegation had received Premier David Ben Gurion’s “vigorous affirmation of the fact and principle that the Government of Israel speaks only in behalf of her own citizens and in no way represents Jews in other countries.” Mr. Engel stressed the significance of the Premier’s statement because “it refuged allegations by unfriendly propagandists based on occasional sentiments voiced by Israelis concerning relations between Jews throughout the world, including the United States, to Israel.”
The Committee delegation, Mr. Engel said, was particularly impressed in Israel by three factors: “I. The overwhelming desire for peace; 2. The astonishing economic and cultural development of the country, with striking advances in industry, agriculture and education; and 3. The strong Israeli orientation towards the Western democracies, especially the United States–an orientation that prevails not only in government circles but throughout the population.”
Regarding the Arab refugees, Mr. Engel said that “there is a great desire on the part of Israel to help solve this serious problem provided the Arab countries evince a willingness to assist in its solution.” He reported that the Premier had re-emphasized the desire to meet face-to-face with Arab leaders on this and other outstanding issues.
On the minorities in Israel–Christian and Moslem–Mr. Engel reported that they had freedom of religion and expression but that the movement of some living in military designated areas was “limited for security reasons often with harmful economic consequences.” Mr. Engel said that the situation had been discussed with Premier Ben Gurion and expressed gratification about recent announcements concerning the Israel Government’s easing of security curbs and travel restrictions.
In Morocco and Tunisia, Mr. Engel reported a strong trend toward full acceptance of the Jews in those countries–about 200,000 in Morocco and 85,000 in Tunisia. He said that fears for the safety of Jewish inhabitants after these countries had achieved independence “have proved unwarranted.” He warned, however, that substandard economic conditions and bleak prospects for the future will intensify the great pressure toward emigration.
The Tunisian Premier, Habib Bourguiba, had stressed his “country’s determination to demonstrate that the Jews of Tunisia can live in equality and harmony in an overwhelmingly Moslem land, ” Mr. Engel said. The Tunisian Premier advised the AJC delegation that Jews were free to emigrate from his country if they wished.