WASHINGTON (Aug. 18)
State Department officials have alleged that differences have arisen between the United States and Israel over payment for damages to the U.S.communications ship Liberty which was attacked in error by Israeli jets off the Sinai coast last year during the Six-Day War. The allegation was made at a background briefing for domestic news media at which the officials were critical of Israel on matters unrelated to the Liberty episode and at which they reportedly called on the American press for “more balanced” reporting on Israel. The briefing was held on the eve of Democratic national platform hearings which will open here tomorrow.
The officials contended that Israel was seeking to avoid payment of a $7 million claim for damages to the Liberty. They said Israel was willing to pay $2 million for damages to the ship plus additional compensation for the 160 crewmen injured in the attack. Israel paid $3.3 million last May to the families of the 34 crewmen killed aboard the Liberty.
(In Jerusalem last night, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the United States had not yet submitted a claim to Israel for indemnification of the 160 wounded crewmen and expressed “surprise” that the State Department officials had accused Israel of refusing to pay for material damages sustained by the ship. He noted that negotiations were in progress over the U.S. damages claim and that Israel had already paid compensation to the families of the deceased. He also observed that several Congressmen had questioned whether Israel was obligated to pay any damages in view of the fact that the Liberty was in the Sinai war zone on June 8 only because a U.S. Navy communications mixup prevented her from receiving Pentagon orders to move out. That aspect of the case was brought to light last month in testimony before a House Defense Appropriations subcommittee.)
At the briefing here, State Department officials criticized Israel for failing to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, for its allegedly rigid stand on negotiations with the Arabs and for a”trigger-happy policy of reprisals.
The Democratic platform hearings will open with testimony by Rabbi Philip Bernstein, co-chairman of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. Testimony urging the United States to sell supersonic Phantom Jet fighter planes to Israel is being prepared for the platform committee by Rep. Bertram Podell, N.Y. Democrat and others. The Republican Party platform has taken a strong stand in favor of the Phantoms for Israel.