NEW YORK (Dec. 1)
Vice-President designate Nelson A. Rockefeller Issued a statement last night reassuring the Jewish community that his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee during a confirmation hearing on his nomination as Vice-President was in no way intended to modify “the position of the President or the Secretary of State of the United States regarding the Palestine Liberation Organization or to urge the State of Israel to negotiate with the PLO. an organization that has called for the elimination of the Jewish State.”
Rockefeller’s statement followed demands by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the American Jewish Congress and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations that he clarify his statement of Nov. 21 to the House Judiciary Committee on the issue of the PLO and Israel.
‘…THEY TOOK THE LAND’
A transcript of his testimony, in which he was answering questions on this issue posed by Rep, Joshua Eilberg (D.Pa.) was obtained by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency from Eilberg’s office in Washington and first disclosed in the JTA Daily News Bulletin Nov. 29. Rockefeller’s statement last night and the demands for clarification from Jewish leaders came after the JTA’s disclosure of the Vice-President designate’s answers.
Eilberg was asking Rockefeller about his feelings concerning the current situation in the Middle East and “would you as President without a mutual agreement with Israel recognize the PLO as the spokesman for the Palestinian people?” The Vice-President designate responded by noting that “I would have to talk with the Israelis about how they feel and what are the possibilities of getting some solution.” Eilberg, persisting in his effort to get a clear statement from Rockefeller, finally asked: “And so I am asking you, if you had to face this question at this time–what would your answer be?”
Rockefeller: “My answer would be. I would sit down with the leaders of the Israeli government and I would say. all right, here is the reality and how are we going to deal with it? If you will for-give me, sir. This happens to be their problem. They live over there. These people were on their land and they took the land.”
LACK OF KNOWLEDGE. INSIGHT
This last answer, especially, prompted criticism and demands for clarification. In a letter to Rockefeller Rabbi Israel Miller, chairman of the Presidents Conference, stated that it would “be appalling for a man of your humanity and responsibility not to have unequivocally responded that you would support the present posture of your government.” Rabbi Miller also noted that the U.S. “in the last few days, through its vote in the United Nations, has sharply indicated that the PLO is not the proper spokesman for the Palestinians nor are murderers a proper negotiating partner.”
Continuing, Rabbi Miller wrote: “May I also point out that your quoted off-hand statement, ‘These people were on their land and they took the land’ did not display the Knowledge of or insight of the history of Israel and its struggle to live we assumed that you possessed. We. trust that you were misquoted and we would appreciate, a prompt clarification of your remarks and attitude.”
Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, president of the AJCongress, also sent a letter to Rockefeller expressing “shock and dismay” and called upon the Vice-Presidential designate to “correct” his remarks at future hearings on his confirmation. Rabbi Hertzberg noted that Rockefeller’s “reading of the history of Palestine and Zionism” reveals a “depressing lack of understanding about the manner in which the Jews of Palestine settled the land and achieved nationhood.”
Furthermore, the AJCongress leader wrote. “Your failure to condemn the Palestine Liberation Organization for the murder of innocent civilians and for its avowed goal of annihilating the State of Israel represents an astonishing omission which is irreconcilable with your long and distinguished participation in international concerns.”
Earlier Rabbi David Saperstein, associate director of the Religious Action Center of the UAHC, appealed to Rockefeller for a clarification “in view of the strong positive attitude toward Israel that (former New York State) Governor Rockefeller has exhibited in the past.” Rabbi Saperstein added that Rockefeller’s statement “should be a serious point of political and moral concern for the American public.”
RETRACTION STILL MISSING
In his response yesterday Rockefeller also noted that in his statement before the House Judiciary Committee he did not “in any. way intend to weaken the enduring commitment of the United States for a strong and independent Israel which is and has been a cardinal principle of U.S. foreign policy–and a policy which I have consistently and actively supported since the State of Israel was founded over a quarter of a century ago.”
Mrs. Naomi Levine. AJCongress executive director, said last night that Rockefeller’s statement last night “gratified” her organization. Noting Rockefeller’s “reassurances.” she declared: “All Americans who view our country’s interests in the Middle East as consistent with the continued existence of a strong and secure Israel will be heartened by Mr. Rockefeller’s statement.”
Nevertheless, it was noted by some that while Rockefeller reaffirmed his endorsement of President Ford’s and Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger’s policies in supporting Israel’s refusal to negotiate with the PLO there was nothing in his immediate statement retracting or clarifying his remarks recorded in the transcript regarding the comment. “These people were on their land and they took the land.” a statement taken by many as referring to Israel having taken the land from the Palestinians.