NEW YORK (Aug. 18)
Two major Jewish organizations have announced that they are endorsing the 20th anniversary celebration of Martin Luther King’s historic “I have a dream” speech, following talks held with the march leadership to ensure that the platform for the event would not include any anti-Israel position.
A spokesman for the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) explained that the leadership agreed to delete condemnation of United States Middle East policy in the final version of the official position papers for the August 27 commemorative March on Washington. He added that his group had also received assurances that the event itself would not allow for the expression of anti-Israel or anti-Semitic sentiment.
Because of these developments, announced at a press conference in Washington, the UAHC, which had initiated negotiations after already endorsing the march, has “reconfirmed (its) commitment” to participate, according to a statement issued by Rabbi Alexander Schindler, UAHC president.
AJCONGRESS EXPRESSES CONFIDENCE
The American Jewish Congress, which had held off making a decision regarding its role in the march until the negotiations were completed, is joining the commemoration “despite serious initial reservations, (and despite) disagreement with a number of organizations who have joined as sponsors of the march,” according to Henry Siegman, executive director of the AJCongress.
In a letter to Coretta Scott King, co-chairperson of the event, Siegman wrote: “We had the most serious reservations about joining as a sponsor of the 20th Anniversary March, precisely because its focus seemed to have diverged from the purposes of the march which it seeks to commemorate by including in its agenda a whole range of unrelated and divisive issues, including positions that are hostile to Israel and gratuitously adversarial towards this Administration.”
The AJCongress decided to join in the march, however, “because of our complete and unqualified confidence in you and your colleagues and in the assurances that you have given us,” Siegman said in the letter.
OTHER JEWISH GROUPS STAND PAT
But other Jewish organizations that did not endorse the march because of similar objections to some of the rally’s sponsors, parts of its original platform, and its scheduling for the Sabbath, have not reversed their decision.
A spokesman for the American Jewish Committee, one of those organizations, said “We appreciate the good faith efforts” on the part of the march leadership, but still consider it “a serious mistake to detract from the central theme” of civil rights by including such issues as nuclear disarmament, Central America and the Middle East in the march’s agenda.
A spokesman for the World Zionist Organization-American Section, another organization that has not reversed its decision, agreed that the concessions made by the sponsors of the event were “good”, but said that his organization was “not mollified, not appeased, nor seduced” by the revised platform.
He stressed that the changes did not affect the “careless” scheduling of the event for Saturday and the anti-Israel leanings of some of the rally’s sponsors such as Rev. Jesse Jackson and former Senator James Abourezk, who is now chairman of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
RESPOND TO CONCERNS OF JEWISH GROUPS
At the press conference in Washington, House Delegate Walter Fauntroy, who represents the District of Columbia, and is the national director of the march, said that the day chosen for the march was “the date closest to the August 28 date” of the original march.
He noted there were objections to the “broadening of concerns from (the areas of) jobs and freedom,” to include opposition to the “escalating arms race and the advocacy of non-violent resolutions to conflicts around the world.”
“Some Jewish organizations,” he said, “believing that the call to peace might be interpreted as an attack on Israel, requested assurances that the legislative package to be agreed upon will not explicitly or implicitly call for cuts in the economic or military aid package to Israel.”
Fauntroy and the rest of the march leadership, which includes Mrs. King, wife of the slain civil rights leader; Benjamin Hooks, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and Dr. Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, “responded to (the) concern” of the Jewish organizations, Fauntroy said.
“It is not our intention to single out Israel,” he said. “We worked on a revision of a proposed draft of the peace position paper so as not to appear to single out Israel for attack.”
Among the reasons cited originally by many Jewish organizations for not endorsing the march was a clause in “A Call to the Nation” issued by the march organizers which said: “We oppose the militarization of internal conflict, often abetted and even encouraged by massive U.S. arms exports, in areas of the world such as the Middle East and Central America, while their basic human problems are neglected.”
The wording of “A Call to the Nation” was not changed after it was released, nor was a revised Call issued. However, the rally’s position papers did undergo revisions.
CHANGES IN THE POLICY PAPERS
Early drafts of the position paper on the Middle East included a statement of “general opposition to present United States policy” in the Middle East. In a subsequent letter to the UAHC on behalf of the march leadership, Fauntroy and Mrs. King said that they now “intend to highlight in our legislative and official policy statements the goal of peace. We will not articulate an official strategy for achieving it.”
The final version of the policy paper, released yesterday, states: “Among the organizations in our coalition, there are divergent views with regard to the efficacy of present United States policy in the Middle East . . . . The United States should have policies which contribute to a just and lasting peace for the Palestinians, the Israelis, and all other people in the Middle East, and should encourage ongoing, constructive dialogue between these parties.”
In regards to U.S. arms exports, the final version reads: “The United States should have a policy of generally reducing arms shipments throughout the world and of increasing the kind of economic and humanitarian aid that would foster peace, economic stability and progress for the peoples of the world.”
ATTEMPTS TO ALLAY FEARS
The letter from Fauntroy and Mrs. King, which the UAHC passed on to the AJCongress, also tried to allay fears that the march would turn into an anti-Israel rally. “We will make every effort,” they wrote, “including giving specific instructions to our marshalls, to insure that placards and banners in the line of the march are in keeping with the (march’s) theme of jobs, peace and freedom.”
The letter further assured the UAHC that “in the case where a divisive act or statement is made — e.g., one that is anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, or defamatory to any group in the coalition — the co-chairs will publicly disavow such a statement or act as inconsistent with the spirit of the March and coalition.”
Schindler said in his statement that in light of “the sensitivity expressed by the leaders of the 20th Anniversary March toward the concern of the Jewish community,” he has accepted the invitation by the leadership to deliver the closing benediction for the march.