TEL AVIV (May. 25)
Retired Chief of Staff Gen. Mordechai Gur has apologized for what was construed as a slur on Sephardic Jews and explained that his remarks were intended for the benefit of that community. He also apologized in writing to Shaul Ben Simhon, chairman of the Association of North African Jews in Israel.
Gur, who returned from a trip to Europe, faced an uproar caused by an interview published in Al Hamishmar over the weekend in which he was quoted as saying that the reason why there were so few senior officers in the army of Oriental background was that it takes them much longer than others to master the intricacies of modem Western technology.
The implication was that Oriental Jews lack the mentality to group the concepts of sophisticated weaponry. Those views were promptly denounced by the leaders of North African Jews. They said that if Orientals were deficient in any way it was because of poor living conditions and educational disadvantages of growing up in slums.
Gur put through a telephone call from Paris Monday expressing regret that his remarks had been misunderstood. He said he made them only to stress the need for improving the conditions of Oriental Jews and raising them to the level of the rest of society.
He reiterated this to reporters on his return to Israel Tuesday. He said his comments were intended to convey the need that the army must do more to raise Jews from Oriental countries to the senior ranks. He said that during his tenure as Chief of Staff and even earlier when he was commander of the northern front he made efforts to train Oriental soldiers for leadership positions.
But, Gur explained, the army can do just so much and the burden of raising standards of the Oriental community rests with society at large. New methods of training and education must be found to solve the problem and that, he said, was the reason why he spoke as he did.