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Mann: Jewish Community Should Seek to Avert Confrontation with Administration. but Not at All Costs

Theodore Mann, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the Jewish community “will avoid confrontation if possible but not at all costs” with the Carter Administration over the Administration’s Middle East intentions. “My purpose,” he said here, “is to help guide the American Jewish community in a way that will facilitate peace in the Middle East with as little friction possible with the Administration” and “with little or no friction with our brothers and sisters in Israel” but with “as much friction as may be necessary to achieve that goal.”

Mann addressed the American Jewish Press Association’s mid-year conference at the San Francisco Press Club. The AJPA members engaged him in detailed discussion on aspects of the relations between the American Jewish community and the Carter Administration and factors in Israel’s foreign policy.

“It is premature, at least for the next few weeks, to reach any final judgments that lead us in one direction or another towards confrontation,” Mann said. “We have not yet had the friction” with the Administration “like in 1977 and early 1978″ which he described as “a very, very difficult confrontation.” Its “peak,” he said, was in October, 1977, “the like of which has never been seen in American Jewish life” and “I am proud of it.”

In that month, following the disclosure of the joint American-Soviet Mideast statement on Oct. I, “every day” groups of Jewish Americans flew into Washington to protest that agreement, Mann noted. President Carter ultimately shelved the agreement after large sections of the House and Senate assailed it as being a means to enable the Soviets to extend their influence in the Middle East which preceding American administrations had blocked.

Mann also said that last April he had “a very serious” meeting with Premier Menachem Begin regarding “our concern” over Israel’s policy regarding Jewish settlements in administered territories during the course of peace negotiations. “We have not had one like that since,” Mann said.

QUESTION OF JEWISH LEVERAGE

Responding to a question on the Jewish community’s “leverage,” on U.S. policy, Mann replied “we have much more leverage than our meager population implies” but “much less than some” in the United States and in Israel “think we have.” He asserted that it would be “dangerous to overestimate our leverage and stupid to underestimate it.”

But, he added, “We are very far from being all-powerful. We shouldn’t kid ourselves, or Washington, or Israel. We can’t always deliver.” He cited as an example of the limitation of Jewish influence the Administration’s victory in getting Congress to approve its war planes deal with Saudi Arabia and Egypt last spring. He said he personally does not feel that the Administration victory, despite the actions by the Jewish community to dissuade it from pressing for the deal, exposed the community as “a paper tiger.” That, Mann said, “was nonsense and I still think it nonsense.” He said “sensible politicians know there are limitations” on Jewish power “but know there is Jewish power. We will win some and lose some. I don’t sense any aftereffects of that battle.”

Asked about the allegation that the Presidents Conference is “a tool” of the U.S. government and about its relations with the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, Mann replied that the Presidents Conference would be “utterly useless” if “we were anybody’s tool. We must be totally independent of Israel and Washington.” Noting a “tendency” towards trying to “woo” the Jewish community, Mann said “the only decent way for the Conference to operate is not to be–not to appear to be–any-body’s tool.”

ISSUE OF JERUSALEM

Commenting on the future of Jerusalem, Mann indicated that the issue has been discussed with Carter “in a very candid way” and “at length” with Begin and Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, and that the Conference’s position is “not whether to express its view but when.” Mann said he thought that the time should be “right after” Egypt and Israel sign their treaty. “There is no question, the Administration knows our feeling regarding Jerusalem and the depth of that feeling,” he said.

“I am very concerned,” Mann stated, about what the Administration’s position is “going to be” on East Jerusalem. Noting that to Saudi Arabia the U.S. position on this issue is the “most important position of all,” Mann said Carter “thinks he knows what the Arabs think–that East Jerusalem must be Arab. I am not saying this is President Carter’s position,” but the President “has said enough” in the U.S. responses to Jordanian King Hussein’s questions to suggest that.

Speaking of Carter, Mann said he is “a friend of Israel who probably more than anything else wants to bring peace to the Middle East and wanted to do that from the moment he became President.” Carter, Mann added, “has stuck” to the Middle East peace he described early last year. After touching on the President’s “overly casual attitude toward the PLO,” and his “feeling” Jews are making too much of the PLO, and that the PLO can change and become more moderate, Mann observed that “he doesn’t have the Holocaust feeling, and we do.”

Basically, he noted, “I don’t think we have a fix on where Carter stands on a number of issues. In the weeks ahead we have to get that fix” in order for the Jewish community to make judgments, in order for the Jewish community to know whether it should “make a geshrie (outcry) or lay back.” Mann said that in the next few weeks meetings have been arranged between the Presidents Conference and top Administration officials. He denied vigorously reports that the Presidents Conference has lost any influence in the White House or is being cold-shouldered there.

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