Convention Reverberations Jewish Political ‘seminar’ Was No ‘caucus’
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Convention Reverberations Jewish Political ‘seminar’ Was No ‘caucus’

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A grave danger exists that the passions of the rival political parties will irreparably fragment the American Jewish community and distort the position of Israel in American foreign policy before the Presidential election is decided November 7.

Some clues on the direction the arguments may take emerged on the last afternoon of the Democratic convention in Miami Beach when a “Jewish affairs seminar” for Jewish delegates and alternates was conducted at the Hotel Deauville by the Democratic National Committee.

The Committee’s press statement reported that “300-plus Jewish delegates” were at the convention but only a fourth of that number appeared at the seminar. Rep. Sidney Yates of Chicago estimated the attendance at the two-hour meeting at about 150 persons, half of whom were delegates and the remainder observers. A majority of those present were women and young people.

The seminar’s purpose, the statement said, was to “quell the widespread effort to use the question of American-Israeli relations to cause polarization among Jewish voters.”

What took place at the Deauville attested to the sagacity of the sponsors who arranged a “seminar” and not a “caucus.” The difference was explained by Manny Feinstein, one of the chairmen. He is a member of the South Dakota Highway Commission, a merchant in South Aberdeen of ladies apparel, has a son in Israel, and is a close friend of Senator McGovern. A “seminar,” Feinstein explained, is to air points of view. A “caucus” is to reach agreement among those who disagree.

Yates said, and Feinstein agreed, that the seminar’s purpose was to learn “what bothers us and what bothers you” and to communicate the problems to Senator McGovern.

Feinstein read a message from McGovern which said: “American Jews are understandably concerned about their co-religionists throughout the world, especially in the Middle East and in the Soviet Union. But that concern must be shared by non-Jews because the issues involved transcend various sectarian interests. I share those concerns. And I now repeat my commitment to pursue policies that will assure the security of the State of Israel and will help arrest the social and cultural oppression of Soviet Jewry.”

Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff marshalled arguments both against McGovern opposition within his own party and allies of President Nixon. Only the night before he had nominated McGovern for the Presidency. He was offered the Vice Presidential nomination after Senator Edward Kennedy had refused it but Ribicoff, now 62, also turned down the invitation because he felt he would have more influence as a participating Senator than as the Senate’s presiding officer.

“Nothing could be more disastrous for Israel and the six million Jews in the United States” Ribicoff warned the seminar “if the President of the United States were elected on what is good for Israel.”

Then, speaking of Israeli-American relations, Ribicoff said that not until Nixon’s meeting at the White House on December 2 with Premier Golda Meir did Nixon “discover that the Rogers plan had to be changed.” Ribicoff apparently was referring to Secretary of State Rogers’ discussions of the Arab-Israeli dispute at the General Assembly two months earlier in which he referred to Israeli withdrawal from territory occupied in the Six-Day War as one of the points barring negotiations. The United States government’s policy continues to be based on Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967.

Nixon, Ribicoff charged, is “manipulating” the Jewish community. “Do you think” he asked “he will listen to Jews or to Standard Oil of New Jersey?” Ribicoff also said that the speech McGovern made at Columbia, Md., in which he described the differences between Vietnam and Israel was written after McGovern had met with him and Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin.

On the domestic side, Ribicoff said, Senator Humphrey owes the American Jewish community an apology for allegedly allowing anti-Semitic views to be imputed to McGovern during the California primary. The Humphrey forces, he said, “ran smear literature” in a “dastardly” act that “is a disgrace to our people.” He said “It is the one blot” on Humphrey’s record. That tactic, he added, has been “taken up by Nixon who now becomes the spokesman for the Jewish people.”

Declaring that some Jews are raising $5 million for the Nixon campaign, Ribicoff denounced “these self-righteous” who “speak for their own aggrandizement.” Interrupted frequently by applause or demands for responses to questions, Ribicoff at one point angrily remarked: “It’s not unfair. I’m laying it on the line.”

The seminar’s verbal pyrotechnics started when Harriet Davis, a Bronx delegate, charged that Rick Stearns, one of McGovern’s four top campaign strategists, be dismissed for his alleged “Arabist” views. She said that the 27-year-old Stearns, who is credited with organizing McGovern volunteers in the non-primary states, should be removed from McGovern’s staff because “materials he has signed will be disseminated to every American Jew.”

Sarah Ehrmann, McGovern’s legislative assistant, with much Capitol Hill experience, declared that Stearns “had zero input on issues.” She said “he gathered in delegates and did a splendid job.”

Elizabeth Holtzman, the 30-year-old lawyer who defeated Emanuel Celler for the Democratic nomination for Congress in Brooklyn, said she had campaigned in the primary for McGovern but asked that McGovern take “some emotional commitment to Israel and on the Jewish questions.”

Howard Metzenbaum, the Cleveland industrialist who narrowly lost in his bid to be a Senator from Ohio, sought to calm the group, saying “I’m not going to say Israel will be harmed if Nixon or McGovern is elected.”

Discussants also included Howard Samuels of New York, who lost to former Justice Arthur Goldberg in the Democratic primary for Governor of New York; delegate Edward Sanders, a Los Angeles lawyer who was named in the seminar announcement as a spokesman.

The seminar presages a heated campaign among Jews and about Jews as the columnists have already made plain. Cool-headed observers indicated that now is the time for all organizational professionals to stick to their lasts as if there is a Jewish Hatch Act in operation during the months ahead. There obviously also is need for objective reporting.

CORRECTION; In the special news report from Miami Beach in the July 14 Bulletin Mrs. Valerie Kushner of Virginia was erroneously described as one of two Blacks who seconded Sen. McGovern’s nomination. Mrs. Kushner is Jewish.

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