Behind the Headlines Issues Facing the Jewish Community
Menu JTA Search

Behind the Headlines Issues Facing the Jewish Community

Download PDF for this date

By his own reckoning, Theodore Mann has logged some 200,000 miles since assuming the chairmanship of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations a year ago.

As he begins his second year in office the Philodelphia lawyer and veteran Jewish leader can look forward to many more miles of travel between his Rittenhouse Square office and the power centers of New York, Washington, Jerusalem and now Cairo.

Mann visited the Jewish Exponent here to share his thoughts with News Editor David Gross, on some of the current issues facing the Jewish community. He had recently returned from attending the formal exchange of treaty documents between Egypt and Israel at Umm Kashiba in the Sinai and from a series of meetings with senior U.S. officials.

“It is most important,” Mann began, “that when American Jews count up the mistakes of the Carter Administration — and there are mistakes and they should be counted — they do not lose sight of the Administration’s positive accomplishments, and they are impressive. This Administration has been fantastic on almost every item on the Jewish agenda except for the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

“There is a tremendous concern in the Jewish community over the Palestine Liberation Organization and its relation to the U.S.,” Mann continued. “Also over the Administration’s view that East Jerusalem, or part of it, could or should be under Arab sovereignty. These are immense issues that indicate different views on Israel’s security requirements than the views of most Jews.”

Noting that “it isn’t easy to say this to American Jews because, it seems, they just don’t want to hear it,” Mann nevertheless stated emphatically, “If I had to write a script on what an Administration could do, this one would be hard to beat.”


Mann praised the Carter Administration’s efforts on behalf of Soviet Jewry, stressing that the U.S. was acting on human rights principles, not merely to secure Jewish votes. He also commended the Administration’s work for the beleaguered Jewish communities in Argentino and Iran.” I can’t think of anything they could do and haven’t done,” he said.

Turning specifically to the situation in Iran, Mann stated that no one can predict what is going to happen there. He said the best intelligence — both American and Israeli — indicates that the Islamic courts are on their own and that the Ayatollah Khomeini only finds out what they have done after it happens.

“The Administration and the Jewish community here are faced with a very difficult decision” Mann said. “Iranian Jewry is being held hostage and we must weigh the risks between remaining silent and raising our voices in protest. We did protest the recent execution of Jewish leader Habib Elkanian. The Ayatollah then met with a delegation of Iranian Jews and limited the power of the Islamic courts. This indicates that the risk of keeping quiet is greater than the risk of speaking out.”

At the same time, Mann emphasized that nobody — either in Jerusalem or in Washington — is confident that the Ayatollah meant what he said or that he has the power to impose his will on the courts.

Mann also summed up the current situation regarding the Jackson-Vanik Amendment which links U.S. -Soviet trade to the Soviet Union’s emigration policy. “No one has suggested that Jackson-Vanik be repealed,” he stressed. “Some Senators have suggested it be amended but they have no Administration support. Jackson-Vanik itself contains a waiver provision and that is what the current discussion involves — not whether the waiver clause should be invoked, but under what conditions Jackson-Vanik should be waived.”

Most Jewish groups, he noted, are seeking to continue using Jackson-Vanik to aid Soviet Jews. They see it as a lever to pry more Jews — especially refusniks and “Prisoners of Conscience’s — out of the Soviet Union, as well as to encourage the Soviets to regularize their emigration procedures. Some of this has already happened, Mann said, particularly in the last eight months. He pointed to the dramatic increase in immigration figures and the recent release of prisoners and refusniks.

There is also a technical aspect to the Jackson-Vanik issue, Mann added. The amendment requires “assurances” by the USSR before it can be waived. Does that mean, he asked rhetorically, that these “assurances must be written? Can they be oral? Can the Russians give them by their actions? Or must they specifically state what they intend to do in the future?”

Here Mann dared assume the prophet’s mantle. “Within 60 days,” he confidently predicted, “the Jackson-Vanik Amendment will be waived for 12 months, and the Soviet Union will be granted most favored-nation’ status.” Will that decision to waive Jackson-Vanik be a wise one ? Even Mann refused to predict. “Ask me next year at this time,” he replied.


Mann also discussed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty which President Carter intends to place before the Senate for ratification. “The President is really pitching SALT “Mann said. “He is urging people to write their Senators on the issue.”

While SALT is not a specifically Jewish issue, Mann said that he expected some Jewish organizations would take formal positions on the treaty and others would not. Speaking for himself, he stated, “I think that SALT is important for the U.S. and Senators should be urged to support it.”

SALT II, he added, will “produce a further slowdown in the arms race — both a quantitative and a qualitative slowdown. An effort to cap the nuclear arms race is necessary if we are to preserve civilization. All Americans,” Mann concluded, “ought to support the President on SALT.”

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund