Menu JTA Search

Jewish Leaders, Concerned over Awacs Sale, Urge Reagan to Reassure Israel

American Jewish leaders registered their serious concern today over the possible effects of the Senate’s approval yesterday of the Reagan Administration’s $8.5 billion weapons sale to Saudi Arabia on the prospects for peace and stability in the Middle East.

They stressed, at the same time, that the Administration now has the responsibility and obligation to see to it that the Saudis abandon their consistently hostile and obstructive posture toward the peace process within the Camp David framework and, above all, to assure and maintain Israel’s military superiority in the region. Many Jewish leaders also deplored the injection of anti-Semitism as an issue in the bitter debate over the arms package deal.

Howard Squadron, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, declared today: “We hope that the White House success in the (Senate) vote will, as the President promised, result in a strengthening of our country’s position in the Middle East. We hope too that the Saudi royal family will respond by joining in the quest for peace.”

“If the Saudis do not take such actions, the arms deal will prove once again the futility of appeasement. It will encourage those forces in the Arab world, enemies of peace, who insist that acting against American interests is the surest guarantee of American support. For the Reagan Administration, it will have turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory,” Squadron said.

Maynard Wishner, president of the American Jewish Committee declared: “We deeply regret that the Senate did not vote to block the proposed AWACS arms package sale to Saudi Arabia in view of the clear Congressional and public concern as to the risks involved. We appreciate that, whatever may have been differences of views regarding this issue, the Administration has always made clear its full commitment to the security of Israel and the Camp David process in its search for peace in the Middle East. We now urge the Administration to demonstrate that commitment in tangible form, to make available to Israel the means to counter the risks to her security created by this sale. We also urge the President to make clear to the Saudis that they are now expected to demonstrate in tangible form their intention to aid the President in his efforts to forward the peace process.”

Daniel Thursz, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, asserted that Senate approval of the sale “only magnifies our concern over peace and stability in the Middle East.” He declared that “The time has come for President Reagan to call upon Saudi Arabia to respond by supporting the American-Egyptian-Israeli peace process and stopping its financial and military support” of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s terrorist activities.

The B’nai B’rith leader also urged the Reagan Administration to reassure Israel, “America’s only stable and reliable ally in the Middle East,” by providing it with the resources to protect itself and ensure its survival.

ANTI-SEMITISM ‘POISONED’ DEBATE

Maxwell Greenberg, national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, said “We hope that the approval of the arms package for Saudi Arabia will contribute to American interests as forecast by its proponents. At this point, the Saudis must display their good faith. They can do so by participating in the Camp David peace process and by ceasing and desisting from their financial and moral support of the Palestine Liberation Organization.”

Greenberg noted that “Reports of anti-Semitism as an element in the AWACS debate have confused and poisoned our discourse. We know, respect and value President Reagan’s dedication to fair play and abhorrence of bigotry and anticipate that he will disavow those who have either misguidedly or viciously used it.”

Henry Siegman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, observed that “The sale was approved solely on the premise that Saudi Arabia is an ally and friend of the U.S. and shares our country’s concerns in the Middle East. This thesis must now be proved. Anything less than Saudi support of the Camp David process and an end to its funding of the PLO would make a sham of the Administration’s assurances. America has fulfilled its pledge to deliver these powerful and sophisticated weapons. Whether Saudi Arabia is genuinely motivated toward peace will now be put to the test.”

Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, stated that “In winning the AWACS vote, President Reagan has assumed two serious obligations. First, he must use his powers of persuasion to press the Saudis to do what they have so far refused to do — cooperate with American policy by supporting the Camp David process and abandoning the terrorist PLO and all those who seek to scuttle the peace … Second, he must move to repair the harm done by those of his supporters who questioned the loyalty of the opposition and falsely made the issue a contest between Reagan and Begin. The surfacing of anti-Semitism that has resulted from this tactic must be dealt with firmly and promptly by the President himself.”

UNANIMITY ON ISRAEL

Rabbi Walter Wurzberger, president of the Synagogue Council of America, noted that notwithstanding the sharp differences of opinion in the course of the arms package debate, “there was total unanimity that concern for the security of the State of Israel is not only a moral necessity but an essential pivot of American policy. We fervently hope that future developments in the Middle East will enable the Administration to allay our fears over the peril to the security of Israel and that Saudi Arabia will be persuaded to become truly moderate and join the peace process.”

Simon Schwartz, president of the United Synagogue of America and Rabbi Benjamin Kreitman, its executive vice president, sent a telegram to President Reagan today calling upon him “in this critical juncture to assure the future security of Israel and give tangible evidence of this support through the granting of appropriate armaments and economic aid and assistance.” They also called on the President “to do everything within your great power to urge Saudi Arabia to support the peace process.”

Ivan Novick, president of the Zionist Organization of America, noted that President Reagan has emphasized that Saudi Arabia is a “moderating force” in the Middle East. “If this is an accurate assessment, then we can look forward with considerable anticipation that the family of Saud will confirm these assumptions by taking tangible and visible steps to distinguish Saudi Arabia as a moderate.”

Novick added, “The United States has often been asked by Saudi Arabia to prove our good intentions. Now that the sale of our most sophisticated and secret weapons will go forward, it is the United States that should expect from Saudi Arabia that it prove its good intentions and cease to be intransigent and unyielding.”

WORLD IS WATCHING

Rabbi William Berkowitz, president of the Jewish National Fund, declared that “President Reagan made the AWACS vote a test of his credibility abroad. Now that he has won … he must demand that the Saudis demonstrate their commitment to American policy in the Middle East, most particularly, the effort to bring peace to the region through the Camp David process. The country and the world will be watching to see what the Administration does with its victory.”

Rabbi Joseph Glaser, executive vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, expressed alarm over the Senate’s approval of the arms package. “That the President could be able to persuade Senators who knew better, and have so stated, to vote for

a measure which will compromise the security of the United States is almost incomprehensible, particularly when the arguments he is alleged to have used are so weak and even transparently insincere,” Rabbi Glaser said.

Rabbi Sol Roth, president of the Rabbinical Council of America asserted that “the central issue” in the AWACS debate “was America rather than Israel. At the same time, we cannot help but express our deep distress and profound dismay over the fact that anti-Semitism was permitted to become a tool to assure victory for those who advocated the sale of AWACS to Saudi Arabia.”

Phyllis Sutker, president of Pioneer Women/Na’amat, said:

“We accept the decision of the Senate, but we remain uneasy and concerned. By its actions, Saudi Arabia has demonstrated that it does not deserve the most sophisticated equipment America possesses. And we retain our strong doubts that Saudi Arabia can be trusted to keep these weapons out of unfriendly, anti-American hands, or to refrain from using them against Israel, or to refuse to transfer them to those who would destroy Israel.”

Rabbi Joseph Sternstein, president of the American Zionist Federation, declared that the “decision to sell AWACS and other armaments to Saudi Arabia is not in the best interests of the United States. But the Congress has spoken. Given the fact, efforts must now be made to strengthen the Camp David peace process, the only promising avenue to Middle East peace … With the decision to sell the AWACS now final, we must now seek something tangible from Saudi Arabia which will demonstrate unequivocally and publicly their commitment to a just peace and real stability in the Middle East.”

NEXT STORY