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Presidents Conference Leader Denies Split in U.S. Jewish Community over Israel’s Policies

Julius Berman, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, denied today that there was any split within the American Jewish community as a result of recent Israeli policy. He also attacked President Reagan’s Middle East plan for Israeli-Arab peace as a violation of the spirit of Camp David and accused the President of going back on his election campaign promise to American Jews that he would always support a unified Jerusalem under Israeli rule.

Berman addressed a press conference here following a meeting with Premier Menachem Begin which he described as on “excellent conversation.” He would not disclose the contents of their talk, however, and refrained from making any comments on the internal political situation in Israel, particularly the many calls for the resignation of Defense Minister Ariel Sharon.

Berman insisted that American Jews were, as always, deeply committed to the security of Israel and took pride in Israel’s democracy. The commitment to Israel’s security went beyond personal and political divisions, he said. “There is no split, no rift, no division of the love for Israel,” Berman declared.

He said he had told Begin that the Jewish people in particular were deeply distressed by events in Lebanon, specifically the massacre of Palestinians in two west Beirut refugee camps last month. “Whereas we protest that world public opinion applies a double standard toward us, we as Jews apply double standards toward ourselves,” Berman said. “We as Jews were shocked and repelled by what occurred (in Beirut). Ironically, its the reaction of the world that almost gives us a different feeling — a stand, a united approach.”

He went on to denounce what he called the shocking hypocrisy of world opinion which rushed to blame Israel for the Beirut massacre whereas it kept silent about those directly responsible for the act and ignored for years similar incidents in Beirut and in Syria. He said American Jewry was deeply gratified by the decision of the Israeli government to set up a commission of inquiry into the events in Beirut.

He said the decision to hold the investigation would improve Israel’s deteriorating image in American public opinion and the situation would improve with time and the wounds would heal. “What is critical is to tone down the heat of the debate. The worst is over,” he said, adding “It is very important not to repeatedly have confrontations with the U.S. government over every little incident.”

However, Berman insisted that Reagan’s Mideast plan was not constructive and weakened the American position as an honest mediator in the Middle East. He contended that as a result of Reagan’s proposals, the Arabs were now negotiating with the American position rather than with Israel.

He said that Reagan had promised American Jewish leaders before the 1980 elections that he would always support a unified Jerusalem under Israel’s rule. His new plan is a deviation from that promise, Berman contended. Reagan, announcing his proposals September 1, said the future status of Jerusalem was to be determined by negotiations.

CLAIMS CONSENSUS ON FIVE MAJOR POINTS

Berman claimed there was an American Jewish consensus on five major points: “Israel cannot return to its pre-1967 borders and we will strongly oppose any effort that will require it to go back to those indefensible frontiers; We will oppose any change in the long-standing American policy of refusing to deal with the PLO; A unified Jerusalem is the capital of Israel; An independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza will be a dagger pointed at the heart of Israel; American Jews will continue their efforts to ensure continued American support for Israel.”

Begin also had a meeting today with Greville Janner, MP, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Janner told reporters later that his delegation wanted it understood that all Israeli actions had a direct effect on Jewish communities abroad. “At this moment it is very difficult to say a good word for Israel without being shouted down,” he said.

Janner said he told Begin that “although Israelis tended to regard events here as matters totally of their concern, when there is massive concern in the world over Israel’s action, this has an almost immediate reflective impact on the Jewish communities of the world and on peoples’ attitudes towards the communities and toward the Jewish people.”

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