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Several Prominent Jewish Leaders Call on Begin Government to Set Up Commission of Inquiry

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Several prominent leaders in the American Jewish community have called on the government of Premier Menachem Begin to create an independent, impartial commission of inquiry to investigate last week’s massacre of Palestinian civilians at the Shatila and Sabra refugee camps in Beirut.

These calls for an inquiry came in the wake of the Knesset vote yesterday to defeat a motion by the opposition Labor party for the creation of such a commission. Begin has strongly opposed an official inquiry on the grounds that it would be an admission of Israeli guilt for the blood bath.

Here in the U.S., the leaders of the American Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee issued a joint statement urging the appointment of a commission of “Israelis of outstanding stature to investigate” the massacre.

“For a government to do this is not an admission of guilt,” the statement said. “It is an affirmation that a democratic Israel is always ready for a full and free investigation to put accusations to rest and fix responsibilities. It is an act that transcends internal and political considerations.”

The joint statement was signed by Maynard Wishner, president, and Donald Feldstein, executive vice president, of the American Jewish Committee; and by Howard Squadron, president, and Henry Siegman, executive director, of the American Jewish Congress.

URGES THOROUGH, IMPARTIAL INVESTIGATION

A “thorough and impartial” investigation by the Israel government into the massacre was also urged by Jack Spitzer, B’nai B’rith International president. In urging the investigation, he suggested that it be conducted by a panel of distinguished jurists from a cross-section of Israeli political opinion “whose conclusions will be accepted and honored not only by their own countrymen but by fair minded people around the world.”

Kenneth Bialkin, national chairman, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, said he was not overly concerned with the “legalisms” involved in a commission to investigate the incident at the Palestinian refugee camps as long as the investigation is “honest … and gives the public the feeling that the information is accurate.” Begin reportedly did not rule out “some sort of investigation of the facts,” despite the Knesset decision yesterday.

The president of the Association of the Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn, in joining the call for an “impartial and independent inquiry,” pointed out that such an investigation was an “urgent necessity … to establish the truth and to restore the credibility of the government of Israel.” Gittelsohn said that, once Israel had made the decision to enter west Beirut, it could “no longer completely absolve itself of all responsibility for the massacre which ensued.”

CRANSTON CAUTIONS BEGIN

Meanwhile, one of Israel’s strongest supporters on Capital Hill, Sen. Alan Cranston (D. Calif.), yesterday released the text of a letter he sent to Begin stating that “recent behavior of your military forces in Beirut is causing deep concern and expressions of outrage among many of Israel’s friends.

“The concern threatens to erode support for Israel in the United States and among the American people,” Cranston, the assistant Senate Democratic leader, wrote. “To critics and friends of Israel alike, it increasingly appears that you and General (Ariel) Sharon have substituted naked military force for a balanced foreign policy which should reflect a decent respect for the opinion of mankind.”

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