American Jewish Community Divided over President Nixon’s Vietnam War Policies

The American Jewish community appeared today to be as deeply split as the rest of the nation over the Government’s Vietnam war policies. The antithetical views were reflected in the capital where a massive anti-war moratorium demonstration in which many thousands of Jewish youth are expected to participate, will take place Nov. 13-15. Efforts by Jewish student and youth organizations to find housing last week end for the demonstrators met with a cold reception from many but not all, synagogues and temples in the Washington area. The Washington, D.C. Board of Rabbis called on local Jews to “open their doors and their hearts” to the anti-war marchers.

The board, whose membership includes 50 Conservative, Orthodox and Reform Rabbis, issued its appeal through its president, Rabbi A. Nathan Abramowitz of Tifereth Israel Synagogue. Support was expressed for “all sincere and strenuous efforts in and out of Government to observe the commandment to seek peace and purse it.” The board recognized “the democratic right of all our fellow citizens who, through various non-violent means, are expressing the extreme urgency and priority for peace in Vietnam. On the Sabbath of Nov. 14-15 we propose that our congregations offer special prayers for Shalom-peace–and engage in programs and discussions emphasizing its centrality to our lives and future…We encourage our synagogues and our congregants to open their doors and their hearts in the ancient spirit of ‘hachnasat orchim’–hospitality to guests, practiced by our people since the days of our forefather, Abraham.”

But many Jews in the capital and elsewhere expressed fear that Jewish support for the peace demonstrators would irritate President Richard M.Nixon, Some Jewish leaders strongly endorsed the President’s war policies and his Nov. 3 Vietnam speech. They appeared to agree with the President’s contention that a U.S. withdrawal would precipitate a Communist victory and claimed that such an outcome would heighten the dangers faced by Israel.

Jacques Torczyner, president of the Zionist Organization of America, took sharp issue Saturday with Jewish leaders who opposed Mr. Nixon’s course. Addressing the ZOA’s national executive committee, he claimed that “the problems of Vietnam and the Middle East are connected and a Communist victory in East Asia will encourage the enemies of Israel and the Arab terrorists in their attacks against out fellow Jews.” Mr. Torczyner was especially critical of the view expressed by Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. The Reform leader called last month for a change in Vietnam policy and urged the Nixon Administration “to press for a standstill cease-fire with arrangements to be made for free elections which would, inevitably, lead to a representative coalition in South Vietnam.”

Rabbi Eisendrath’s remarks drew a sharp attack from Orthodox rabbis who denounced them as “irresponsible” and hastened to express their support of Mr. Nixon. Rabbi Zev Segal, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, wrote to the President last week claiming that a “silent majority” of American Jews supported him. In his Nov. 3 speech, Mr. Nixon called for support from the “silent majority” of Americans against what he termed the “loud minority.”

Another pledge of support for the President’s war policies came from Bernard B. Direnfeld, national commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States. He wired the White House that “the Jewish War Veterans have faith that President Nixon’s withdrawal plan will move ahead in a manner squarely within the national interest and the honor of our country.”

But the American Jewish Congress, bitterly opposed to the Vietnam war, urged its members Friday to “join in effective and meaningful peace-related activities” on their local communities over the moratorium week end. “We associate ourselves with this effort as a means of dramatizing the desire of Americans in all walks of life to bring about an end to the war in Vietnam,” said Mrs. Howard Levine, chairman of the AJCongress’ peace committee. Among the activities suggested were community meetings, petitions and latter-writing campaigns, efforts to obtain resolutions from government bodies and briefings for Congressmen.

Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform) accused Mr. Nixon of fostering the same Vietnam policies as pursued by the Administration of former President Lyndon B. Johnson. Referring to the President’s Vietnam television address, Rabbi Gittelsohn said it was an example of “too little, too late and too vague.” Commenting on Hanoi’s peace posture, the rabbi agreed that the North Vietnamese Government was not “blameless” in its refusal to respond more affirmatively at the peace table. He added that the burden for peace rests with the U.S. since the U.S. intervened in a civil war. He urged CCAR members to “openly and actively” support this week’s peace moratorium.

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