WASHINGTON (Feb. 2)
Rabbi Alexander Schindler, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said yesterday that the controversy surrounding Israeli settlements in the occupied Arab territories is “not an issue” for the American Jewish community but a matter to be resolved “in direct face-to-face talks” between Israel and its neighbors.
Schindler also said that he didn’t think that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s “open letter” to the American Jewish community, published in the Miami Herald and other newspapers last Sunday, was part of an “invidious” campaign to drive a wedge between American Jewry and Israel. He said that any person who believed that the Jewish community’s support of Israel can be weakened is “naive or a simpleton and Sadat is neither.”
Schindler made his remarks to reporters in the diplomatic lobby of the State Department after he and four other Jewish leaders had a 50-minute meeting with Secretary of State Cyrus Vance.
On the question of settlements, Schindler said the Presidents Conference does not have “any policy” because “that is a matter” for Israel and the neighboring governments to decide. He said that “there isn’t any problem between Israel and her neighbors that cannot be resolved in direct, face-to-face talks.”
Schindler said he was “certain” that the issue of Israeli settlements in Sinai can be resolved by Israel and Egypt and those in other areas by Israel “with appropriate partners.” However, he said, “the problem cannot be resolved if a surrogate is chosen like the Jewish community” to take a role.
Schindler acknowledged that the settlements issue was “serious” but claimed that it has been “overblown” and “magnified.” He defended the settlements, however, contending that they cannot “justly be considered imperialistic” since there are only about 3000 Jews among 750,000 Arabs in Judaea and Samaria. He also said the settlements do not represent “expropriation or displacement” of Arabs. He claimed their presence was, in fact, beneficial because they bring industry and higher living standards to the whole area.
VIEWS ON SADAT’S LETTER
On the question of Sadat’s “open letter” to which Schidler replied in an “open letter” of his own, he said the Egyptian President had received requests for weeks from the Miami Herald that he address the American Jewish community before he finally sent it.
Some American Jewish leaders took a different view of Sadat’s letter. Among those seeing it as a deliberate ploy to weaken American Jewish support for Israel and trying to appeal to the American Jewish community over the head of the Israeli government were Faye Schenk, president, American Zionist Federation; Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, president, American Jewish Congress; Rabbi Joseph Stemstein, president, Zionist Organization of America; and Theodore R. Mann, president, National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council. However, Chaim Herzog, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, said Sadat has as much right as anyone to try to influence public opinion in a free society.
Schindler, who met with Sadat at Aswan last month, said he is “certainly sympathetic” with Sadat’s motives and peace yearnings which “all Americans share with a whole heart.” However, he said, there are “some specific points on which we don’t agree.” He observed that Sadat says he has “given everything to Israel and Israel has given nothing.” Schindler said that, on the contrary, he believes that Israel has made “far-reaching political and territorial concessions” and that President Carter agrees with this view.
Schindler declined to discuss the Middle East aspects of his talk with Vance today which was apparently devoted largely to Soviet Jewry affairs. However, it is believed that a purpose of the meeting was to ascertain whether statements inimical to Israel would be forthcoming during the Sadat-Carter meeting this weekend.
WILL NOT SEEK MEETING WITH SADAT
Meanwhile, the Presidents Conference announced today that it had voted unanimously not to seek a meeting with Sadat while he is in this country. Schindler explained, “We did so lest the Jewish community be interpreted as seeking to take part in these negotiations and lest such a meeting be construed as a surrogate for direct Egyptian-Israeli talks.”
Schindler said, “We welcome President Sadat to our country as a man of peace but peace can come only if the parties that fought the wars sit together and negotiate in a spirit of good will and compromise. It can neither be imposed by outside powers nor arranged through intermediaries. We have no role in such negotiations as a Jewish community.” There were reports which could not be immediately confirmed that some Jewish leaders were seeking to meet with Sadat during his stay here.