NEW YORK (Mar. 11)
The more than 100 Jewish leaders who met with top aides of President Carter yesterday demanded “a clear public statement” from the President stressing his support for Israel.
Most of those attending the closed-door meeting at a Manhattan private club did not appear to accept the reassurance of this support from Robert Strauss, Carter’s campaign manager, and Sol Linowitz, the President’s special Ambassador for Middle East negotiations. Many said they still do not accept the President’s explanation that the United States voted for a resolution condemning Israel in the United Nations Security Council March I because of a communications “foul-up.”
While the meeting was in progress, a crowd of more than 100 persons, mostly young people, demonstrated against Carter, chanting slogans such as “Carter Must Go,” and “Dump Carter Now.” There were several scuffles with the police and Rabbi Meir Kahane, leader of the Jewish Defense League, and several others were arrested. Manhattan Borough President Andrew Stein, who was one of the demonstrators, accused the police of using excessive force.
At a brief press conference after the meeting, Strauss said that while the UN vote was a mistake it has not stopped Israel and Egypt from carrying out the start of diplomatic relations between them and continuing their efforts to achieve peace through the autonomy talks. He said there was no lessening of the President’s commitment to Israel and the efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East.
Jack Spitzer, president of B’nai B’rith, told the press conference that he believed there was “no question of the President’s commitment to the security of Israel.” He said that as Israeli Premier Menachem Begin has accepted Carter’s explanation of the UN vote so does he. Rep. Stephen Solarz (D,NY), who is on record as supporting Carter, said he believed the meeting yesterday had helped to assuage the Jewish community.
Strauss maintained that if a straw poll had been taken at the meeting “the President would have carried it very well.” But Benjamin Epstein, executive vice president of the Foundation of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, and one of the organizers of the meeting, interjected and said it would have been close but the President would have won.
WRONG TIME FOR THE MEETING
Rabbi William Berkowitz, president of the Jewish National Fund told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency later, that if a straw vote had been taken it would have gone against the President.
Berkowitz, who is also the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan, said he thought it was wrong to have the meeting at this time. He said he didn’t think it was proper to have Linowitz at a political meeting since it might “compromise” his position as a negotiator in the “delicate” autonomy talks now going on.
He also said it was “ill-advised” to make the issue of peace in the Mideast into a Jewish issue since it was an American issue. He said that instead of sending two Jewish spokesmen, the Carter Administration should have sent someone like Harold Sounders, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs, since the State Department was also responsible for the UN vote.
Berkowitz and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, told the JTA that those attending the meeting stressed that even if references to Jerusalem had been omitted from the UN resolution it was still a bad resolution which the U.S. should have vetoed. Carter maintained that the resolution was approved by the Administration because it was incorrectly believed that all references to Jerusalem had been deleted.
Berkowitz said that what Strauss was saying was an echo of the President’s oft-repeated statement, “trust me.” Stanley Lowell, former chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry and an organizer of the meeting, said that in demanding a public statement from the President the audience said it had to come from Carter personally and not from Vice President Walter Mondale or other Administration spokesmen.
WIDESPREAD DISAFFECTION WITH CARTER
The meeting yesterday was organized after the UN vote and its aftermath revealed a widespread disaffection of Jews with Carter. The New York State Primary is being held March 25 and Jews historically vote in this state’s primary in larger proportion to their numbers than any other group.
The disaffection with Carter was shown by the demonstrators outside the Harmonie Club, at 4 E. 60th Street, where the meeting was held, who carried signs, including, “Jimmy, We Don’t Believe You,” “Carter Stabbed Israel in the Back,” and “We Need a President Who Can Read.”
The first group of demonstrators were mostly young women from Stem College of Yeshiva University and students from the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale led by Rabbi Avi Weiss, who said they were members of his Mobilization for Israel group. Weiss called for the election of “anyone” but Carter. He said Carter has demonstrated that he is anti-Israel which means he also acts against American interests. Also demonstrating were members of the North American Jewish Students’ Network.
Many of the demonstrators did not seem to know who Kohane was when the JDL leader and his group pushed to the front of the police barricades and a scuffle with the police began. One demonstrator told the JTA that he had to identity Kahane and explain his confrontation tactics in the students, since many of them were too young during the heyday of the JDL demonstrations in New York just a few years ago.
There were several clashes with the police as Kahane and about a dozen people with him sought to gain entrance into the Harmonie Club. Kahane called those entering the building “Jewish judenrat,” and one of the persons with him had a sign calling those inside “Capos.” The police arrested Kahane and five others after several of the clashes. Ten persons, seven of them policemen, were reportedly injured.
The JCRC today asked for an investigation of the police conduct during the demonstration. In a communique to Police Commissioner Robert McGuire, Hoenlein said: “There is universal agreement that police overreacted, were abusive and used unnecessary force. While we recognize such situations are difficult and protestors are often provocative the response was nevertheless inappropriate and excessive.”
When Strauss was asked about the demonstration, he said they did not represent the majority of American Jews or Americans. He said he felt “sorry” for them since they were wasting energy that could be used better in discussing the issues.