Special Interview New Chairman of Presidents Conference Discusses U.s.-israeli Relations; Israel’s R
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Special Interview New Chairman of Presidents Conference Discusses U.s.-israeli Relations; Israel’s R

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Howard M. Squadron, a prominent New York Lawyer and president of the American Jewish Congress was elected on June 9 chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a group that is largely accepted as the spokesman of American Jewry’s consensus on issues relating to Israel and U.S. Mideast policy.

The 53-year-old Squadron, who succeeds another lawyer, Theodore R. Mann, for a one year term beginning July 1, is assuming office in an election year here and at a time when the prospects for further progress toward peace in the Mideast are at a stalemate.

In a special interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency at his Fifth Avenue law firm office, Squadron outlined his views on the President Conference and its goals, its dealings with the Administration and Israel and other related issues. Following are excerpts from the 50-minute interview.

Q. What is the role of the Presidents Conference?

A. I think that the Conference of Presidents is the one instance in the American Jewish community where unity is attempted to be reached on one subject: the subject of Israel and the relations between Israel and the United States.

It is a very diverse group, representing all shades of opinions, different constituencies and different concerns. It is therefore rather remarkable that the group agrees on what the U.S. policy toward Israel should be.

Q. Can you be more specific as to the role of the Conference in dealing with the Administration?

A. The Presidents Conference has two principal functions. One, to express to the Administration the concern of the American Jewish community on the subject of U.S.-Israel relations and two, to express the unified view of the Presidents Conference how the best interests of the U.S. can be served in the Mideast or anywhere else in the world where there is a Jewish community.

Q. How would you describe the present relations between American Jewry and the Administration?

A. I think they are cordial. In the last two years there has been a remarkable access (to Jewish leaders) to the White House, the State Department and other branches of the Administration. When the announcement was made that I was elected as chairman of the Presidents Conference I immediately received an invitation to meet with Vice President (Walter) Mondale. I hope to meet with him when I am in Washington next week.

Q. You describe the Conference’s relations with the Administration as “cordial” but do you agree with the Administration’s Mideast policy?


A. The tradition has been in an election year to suspend differences. This year, I think, it is not going to be passable. The differences are going to be confronted. It is absolutely vital, if the Camp David process is to survive, to reach an agreement on autonomy (for the Palestinians), even if it’s a compromise agreement, before the November election. It is in the interest of Israel, Egypt and the U.S. to do so for different reasons. But the common reason is that an autonomy agreement now is the only defense against the West Europeans efforts to impose a PLO dominated Palestinian State in the West Bank….After the election the Administration here is going to find common ground with our Western European allies.

Q. Is the Presidents Conference an independent organization? Is it in any way receiving instructions from the Government of Israel?

A. In my view it has been independent and should be independent. The member organizations in the Presidents Conference are American Jewish organizations and they should be making decisions of what is in the best interest of the U.S. as well as the security of Israel. If they (the Presidents Conference) appear to be taking instructions from the government of Israel they cannot be effective.


Q. A few months ago (Israeli) Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon urged American Jewry, during an address to the Presidents Conference, to stage a mass demonstration in Washington against the Carter Administration’s Mideast policy. What do you think of such advice?

A. Mr. Sharon was making a mistake. He does not understand the American political process and it was not appropriate for him to give such advice such statements can only create the mistaken impression that the Presidents Conference gets instructions from Israel.

Q. How should disagreements with the government of Israel be handled?

A. The communications to the Israeli government from the Presidents Conference should be private and not in the media. Exchanges through the media do not help Israel and do not increase the effectiveness of the Presidents Conference.

Q. The issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank is a constant source of friction between Israel and the Administration, which claims that the settlements are an obstacle to peace and illegal. What are your views?

A. I do not think the settlements are illegal and I think that even if you would like a different approach from Israel, it is a mistake to call them an obstacle to peace. The real obstacle (to peace) is the PLO’s commitment to exterminate Israel. How do you make peace with somebody who wants to kill you?


Q. Don’t you think that the PLO is gaining in American public opinion?

A. There should be a distinction between the PLO and Palestinians in general. In my view the American people are prepared to continue to support opposition to the PLO because it is a terrorist organization committed to the extermination of Israel. On this subject, the subject of not dealing with the PLO, I think the American people will support the U.S. view and not the European approach (which advocates bringing the PLO to the Mideast peace process).

Q. How would you characterize your relationship with Premier Menachem Begin?

A. Good, quite good. We agree on most things. We disagree on some things.

Q. Did you ever meet with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat? What is your impression of him?

A. I met with him twice. I found him to be charming, intelligent, a man who possesses a very good sense of public relations.

Q. But were you convinced that he is sincere in his peace policy?

A. My opinion is that Sadat is a pragmatic Egyptian patriot who honestly believes that it is better for Egypt to live in peace rather than in war. He would probably prefer that Israel was not there but as long as it’s there, it is better to make peace with her.

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