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American Jews Favor Dissent over Israeli Policies, but Not in Public

Representative members of the American Jewish community overwhelmingly support “free expression of the widest variety of views and opinions on Israel’s policies.” At the same time, they believe such expressions should be confined to the Jewish community lest they “give aid and comfort” to Israel’s enemies. That consensus was reported today by Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Rabbi Schindler disclosed at a press conference at Jewish Agency headquarters here that the Presidents Conference held a meeting this week with more than 100 representatives of Jewish groups, including “hawks” and “doves,” in an effort to ascertain the attitude within the American Jewish community with respect to Israel’s policies. At that meeting, Rabbi Eugene Borowitz of Hebrew Union College, a member of the “doveish” Breira group, spoke in favor of a policy that would encourage dissent and criticism of certain Israeli policies. Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, former president of the Rabbinical Council of America, who supports the militant Gush Emunim in Israel, argued against that position, Rabbi Schindler reported.

According to Rabbi Schindler; “The overwhelming opinion of the more than 100 representatives who attended was to support free expression of the widest variety of views and opinions on Israel’s policies–provided that such views were voiced within the Jewish community.” In fact, Rabbi Schindler said, American Jews have a “responsibility to express their views to their organizations so that those views may, in turn, be communicated to the government and people of Israel.”

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Rabbi Schindler said, however, that “the near unanimous” opinion at the meeting was that who Jewish dissent is made public in the daily press or in the halls of government, the result is “to give aid and comfort to the enemy and to weaker that Jewish unity which is essential for the security of Israel and, indeed, of the Jewish community in America.”

Rabbi Schindler, who is scheduled to leave for meetings in Israel at the end of the month, called on President Ford and “all candidates of the Presidency” to adopt a Mideast policy that would emphasize “the kind of peace which the Arab states must accept and the method by which agreement on that peace is to be achieved. The focus of discussion must shift from the return territories to the nature of peace,” Rabbi Schindler declared. “from a one-sided demand for Israeli concessions to the insistence that the Arab states take steps now–not a generation from now–to normalize their relations with the Jewish State and to make clear they have abandoned their refusal to accept Israel’s sovereignty.”

Yehuda Hellman, executive director of the Presidents Conference, said both the Republican and Democratic nominees for the Presidency would make formal addresses to the Presidents Conference following their respective party conventions. He recalled that in 1972, Richard Nixon and George McGovern had accepted invitations from the Presidents Conference to speak. Rabbi Schindler said that he had met so far with all candidates for the Presidency except former Gov. Ronald Reagan of California. According to Schindler, the Democratic front-runner, Jimmy Carter, expressed concern over the fact “that Jews held his religion against him.” Rabbi Schindler said, however that “each candidate should be judged on his merits,” and that he was encouraged by Carter’s understanding of Israel’s problem as reflected by his recent statements.

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