WASHINGTON (Feb. 21)
The first national conference of Breira over the weekend heard criticism of Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance’s position on the Palestine Liberation Organization and was told by an American Jewish journalist that the Jewish press in this country avoids criticism and controversy on matters relating to Israel.
The four-day Breira conference opened Saturday at the National 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, Md. and will end tomorrow. A Breira spokesman said 260 persons were in attendance. It was addressed yesterday by Edward Sheehan, a Harvard Research Fellow who has written extensively on the Middle East, and today by Robert Cohn, editor of the St. Louis Jewish Light and president of the American-Jewish Press Association.
Sheehan criticized Vance for calling for a modification of the PLO covenant before the U.S. will recognize that organization as a partner in Middle East peace talks. The PLO covenant calls for the replacement of Israel by a secular democratic state in all of Palestine.
Sheehan claimed that Vance’s view “looks like a dictat.” He said there was a “rough consensus” among the Arab governments in favor of an agreement with the PLO for a “limited state solution” of the Palestinian problem. He warned that a Palestinian state would be vulnerable “if it were hobbled by restrictions” and “it could be radicalized.” He thought that PLO acceptance “by implication” of Security Council Resolution 242 should be sufficient for its participation in Middle East peace talks.
Sheehan described Israeli settlements on the West Bank as an “outrage” and warned that “tensions are building up for Israelis” that “will be impossible to bear.” He also reiterated that Arabs should have sovereignty over Jerusalem.
PRESS SHOULD DEAL WITH OPTIONS
Cohn said that “It is not up to the American-Jewish community from afar to dictate terms to those who have to face Arab bullets” and Arab propaganda “but there is no reason why the pages of our newspapers as well as our magazines cannot deal with the various options which might be available to Israel as it seeks the long wanted peace with its Arab neighbors.”
He stated that “It is hard to imagine, but some of the very same Jewish leaders who express outrage at the controlled press in Moscow or Peking and who defend the rights of publishers in the general press in American, are content with a Jewish press which is even less free to comment on controversy than the Peking Peoples Daily.” Cohn said that on the subject of Israel, the American-Jewish press “generally adhered to the policy of after-the-fact endorsement of the decision of the ruling coalition (in Israel) to an even greater extent than the Jerusalem Post.”
Cohn said that he believed that the aim of Breira was “to provide a forum for the intelligent discussion of alternatives” for Israel and deplored “the over-reaction of the Jewish establishment to the existence and activities of Breira.” Breira has advocated Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation and has frequently criticized policies of the Israeli government and the Zionist establishment.
Cohn said his interpretation of what Breira set out to accomplish was “to provide a forum for the intelligent discussion of alternatives.” He said he does “not question either the sincerity or Jewish loyalty” of Breira members and that the “over-reaction of the Jewish establishment to the existence and activities of Breira is akin to using an elephant gun against a flea. This, he added, “has resulted in a needless waste of energy on the part of those attacking Breira and on the part of Breira itself which has to devote too much of its own creative energies these days to defending itself.”
The Breira conference was picketed by a group of militant Jewish youths, some of whom entered the lobby of the 4-H Center shouting “There is no Palestine” and “Am Yisroel Chai.” Tables were overturned and Breira leaflets were strewn on the floor along with leaflets brought by the demonstrators that included some attributed to the Jewish Defense League. The demonstrators left the building when Montgomery County police arrived but continued outside to picket and shout slogans for about two hours. There were no arrests and no injuries were reported.