NEW YORK (Jun. 17)
Theodore Mann, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, replied today to a message sent by 62 prominent American Jews to Premier Menachem Begin protesting the Israel government’s settlement policy on the West Bank; in particular, the controversial Gush Emunim settlement, Alon Moreh near Nablus. Mann, who returned from Israel Friday where he headed an eight-member Presidents Conference delegation in discussions with Begin and other Israeli leaders on a variety of matters including the settlements issue, reiterated that the consensus of American Jews is that the settlements are “legat” and “necessary” to protect Israel from terrorists.
“The distinguished men and women who signed the June 15 communication to Prime Minister Begin have unfortunately allowed their concern over a single settlement, Alon Moreh a concern which I share–to color their views about all future settlements on the West Bank,” Mann said. He said that after his conversations with Begin, Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, I have utterly no doubt that Israel intends to carry out the letter and spirit of the Camp David accords. But if the West Bank is not to become a staging ground for PLO terrorism against Israel–as Jordan was once and Lebanon is now–then full autonomy can be achieved only in the context of effective security arrangements for Israel’s protection.”
According to Mann, “The heart of the problem is to harmonize Israel’s desperately needed security against terror with the inhabitants’ need for autonomy. Jewish settlements are an answer to the first part of the equation. Great sensitivity in regard to their location is an answer to the second. That such settlements are legal is not only my view but the concensus view in the American Jewish community; nor is this view contested by the signers of the message to Mr. Begin,” Mann said. He went an to say that the belief that such settlements are an effective deterrent to terrorism is held “not only by Mr. Begin but by Dayan, Weizman, Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon and other Israelis who have demonstrated enormous competence in protecting Israel from the ravages of terror in the past.”
Mann concluded that “For this reason, the broad, sweeping conclusions drawn by the signers of the message to Prime Minister Begin, opposing all future settlements on the West Bank, should not and will not, in my judgment, win the support of the American Jewish community.”
LZA LEADERS SCORE POLICY
On Friday however, two American Labor Zionist leaders declared that the settlement policy of the “current Israeli government” undermines the concensus of the American Jewish community on the settlement issue and urged the Israeli government “to be cautious” in undertaking actions “which make it more difficult to maintain a unified American Jewish community in these difficult times.”
The statement was issued jointly by Prof. Allen Pollack, president of the Labor Zionist Alliance and Frieda Leeman, president of the Pioneer Women. Pollack and Leeman are presently in Israel but their statement was released in New York through the coordinating committee of the Labor Zionist Movement. The two signatories made it plain that they were responding to a statement by Mann in Jerusalem Thursday claiming that American Jewry concurred in the Israeli government’s settlement policy. The LZA and Pioneer Women are constituents of the Presidents Conference headed by Mann.
“There is no concensus in the American Jewish community or even in the Conference of Presidents regarding the Israel government’s settlement policy,” they said. “There are deep divisions in our community as there are in Israel, as is understandable in the face of so controversial a policy.” They added that while they rejected President Carter’s assertions that such settlements are “illegal,” they did believe “they are unwise,” especially at the beginning of the autonomy negotiations. “When the delicate relations with Egypt should be cultivated and relation with the United States should not be exacerbated (by) Jewish settlements in densely populated Arab areas.”
Another statement related to the settlements issue, issued Friday by Julius Berman, president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, claimed that recent news reports of Israeli and American Jewish reaction to the latest Jewish settlement near Nablus were “deliberately slanted to mislead the American public as to the degree of support that the Begin government enjoys at home and abroad.” According to Berman, “We have been subjected to an outrageous barrage of biased reporting, selected and designed to dovetail with a series of editorial attacks upon Israel’s long-standing policy of establishing civilian settlements on the West Bank.”
Berman conceded that “Honest men may disagree and usually do,” but, he charged, “rather than report the debate as a normal part of the ongoing dialogue of Israeli politics, a portion of our media has chosen to sensationalize it and there by distort the American public’s views of events in Israel.”