WASHINGTON (Feb. 2)
After his two meetings with Jewish leaders in Chicago last Thurs- day, Illinois Republican Senator Charles Percy recognized that he had failed to convince them of his latest views regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict, particularly that the Palestine Liberation Organization’s leader Yasir Arafat is now “a relatively moderate” antagonist.
His advice and warnings in Chicago and in Jerusalem earlier proved unacceptable both to the dozen leaders of the Public Affairs Committee of the Jewish United Fund of Chicago who had asked to meet with him at his office in the Federal Building and to the approximately 150 persons who gathered later in the same building at a session that Percy himself had organized to explain his comments. Some at the larger session left well before it adjourned.
Later at a news conference, Percy observed that “some of my many lifelong friends were deeply, deeply troubled,” and “I could well have lost their votes and their support.” The Senator appeared deeply troubled, too. His Senate office in Washington the next day was completely closed to business. A recorded message informed callers they should phone the following business day because the staff was in a day-long meeting. Surprised Capitol personnel said such shutdowns rarely happen.
In Jerusalem, Washington and Chicago, Percy contended that Israel should deal with Arafat eves though not even a peep of remorse or conciliation came from the would-be destroyer of Israel as a nation and the architect of the killings of defenseless innocents in cold blood in Israel and abroad. And although none of the rulers of the Arab world has even informally pledged respect for Israel’s sovereignty–for which Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger himself is the authority–Percy advised Israel to make further withdrawals to those vulnerable old borders that helped bring about the Six-Day War.
MORE MODERATE THAN FULBRIGHT
He also warned Israel not to engage in any pre-emptive war because America no longer will back her “right or wrong” and he indicated that he would not be among those in Congress who traditionally have overridden the Administration in granting funds and credits for Israel’s defense.
But Percy did not engage in terms used by former Sen. J. William Fulbright against Zionists and alleging they “dominate” Congress. Rather, he reiterated several times that his support for Israel’s “legitimate aspirations for peace and security is irreversible” although “changed circumstances in the Middle East require changes in Israel’s policy” to avoid “imminent war.”
Maynard Wishner, chairman of the Chicago Public Affairs Committee of the JUF, representing 36 major Jewish groups, took cognizance of Percy’s expression of continued fidelity to Israel’s sovereignty “with all my heart.” He pointed out that the Senator’s statement following the original reports “contained matter pleasing to us. They seemed more even-handed than in the first reports.”
Percy took pains to mitigate the anger of his constituents. In Chicago, the Senator asked Wishner to chair the larger meeting which, all accounts agree, was heated, Percy, who only seven weeks previously was one of 71 Senators who addressed a letter to President Ford asking him to have no dealings with the PLO, exclaimed to the group; “You all know I have been a devoted, conscientious, unreserved friend of Israel. I still am but it is my sincere opinion that by remaining silent I would have done great Harm to the future of Israel.”
AUDIENCE PRESSES PEROY
But from the Chicago audience came statements like, “If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.” His remarks were “irreversibly” undercutting Israel’s position, “ill-timed, calculated to undermine Israel,” “ignorant of Jewish history,” and “a trial balloon for the Administration’s shift away from Israel.” Gen. Julius Klein, a top official in the Eisenhower Administration, said the Senator was “pouring oil on the Middle East fire.”
Regarding Arafat, Wishner himself recalled to Percy British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s experience with Hitler. After their Munich meeting, Chamberlain proclaimed to Britain, “I bring you peace in our time.” On his death bed, Chamberlain remarked, “Everything would have been all right if Hitler had only not lied to me.”
When Percy emphasized to newsmen that Arafat was “relatively” more moderate than other Palestinian leaders, a reporter asked the Senator sharply: “Relative to what? Like Himmler to Hitler?”
The impact of the Percy episode cannot be immediately measured. The Administration says that Percy was speaking for himself, but the Senator had indicated that American Ambassadors had accompanied him in all his Arab meetings and that Kissinger did not challenge his views last Monday, the night before he had met the media in Washington.
At the Capitol, most of the Key sources passed it off as a personal matter for Percy. Among the true tests, they indicated, will be how the Congressmen vote on the foreign aid budget the Administration presents. This may come in early March after the State Department submits its requests to the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees.