NEW YORK (Jun. 20)
American Jewish leaders emerged from a meeting with senior TWA executives and government officials convinced that TWA flight personnel on board hijacked aircraft 847 did not participate in aiding the Shiite Moslem hijackers in a selection process last weekend which led to the separation of some six passengers with “Jewish sounding surnames” from the other passengers.
“We have no reason to believe that the TWA crew comported themselves in anything less than a professional, courageous and exemplary manner, ” the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council said in a statement issued today on behalf of the organizations which participated in the meeting Wednesday afternoon. “Nothing in their reported behavior would appear to have put the lives of Jews, those with Jewish sounding names or any other passengers in greater jeopardy.”
The two-hour meeting held at TWA offices here was requested by senior TWA officials to allay concerns in the Jewish community that the flight crew of the hijacked aircraft, now in Beirut, had collected passports from the passengers and given the hijackers those passports with Jewish sounding surnames. These passengers were taken from the plane and are reportedly being held by the Party of God, the fundamentalist Shiite group that is said to have organized the hijacking.
PRESIDENTS CONFERENCE PRAISES REAGAN
In a related development, Kenneth Bialkin, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, today praised President Reagan for refusing to yield to terrorist demands” and said the hijacking underscored “the importance of Israel as our country’s strong and reliable ally in the region. “
In a telegram sent to the White House, Bialkin also condemned “The cruelty of the terrorists and the racism and hate that motivate” the hijackers “in singling out passengers with so-called Jewish-sounding names and holding them separately. We know that you (Reagan) and all Americans share our pain over this vicious selection process, with its echoes of Auschwitz and the Holocaust,” said Bialkin, who was just relected to a second one-year term as Presidents Conference chairman.
TWA officials maintained this week that the flight attendants aboard the aircraft tried but failed to dissuade the hijackers from separating the passengers from those thought to be Jewish. A spokesman said the attendants were able to convince the hijackers that some of those they thought were Jewish were either German or Swedish.
PURSER’S ACTION DEFENDED
Uli Derickson, the flight’s purser, told a news conference last Sunday in New York that the gunmen ordered her to collect passengers’ passports and give them those with Jewish sounding surnames. She stated that she did not single out any names.
Sally McElwreath, TWA staff director of corporate communications, said: “The hijackers were going through the passports and saying ‘This is a Jewish name, this one sounds like a Jewish name.’ At some point she (Derickson) said things like ‘that’s Swedish, that’s a well known Swedish name.’ She did not nominate passengers.”
Derickson’s performance was also defended this week by Jerry Cosley, TWA vice president of corporate communications. “Throughout the entire painful episode she tried to persuade the hijackers that they couldn’t identify a person by their name and she resisted at every point. Her interest was to protect every passenger by every means and guile at her disposal.”
The Jewish organizations that participated in the meeting Wednesday with TWA and government officials, were the NJCRAC, American Jewish Congress, American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. The unidentified government officials who participated in the meeting are said to have participated in the debriefing of Derickson for several hours.
SEPARATED PASSENGERS ‘PARTICULAR RISK’
“The remaining American hostages and TWA flight crew clearly are in great jeopardy and our uppermost goals continue to be the prompt and safe release and until then their safety and well being,” the statement said.”Noting the intense hostility of the hijackers to the United States, Israel, and hence, by their perverted logic, to Jews or those they believe to be Jews, we believe hostages so identified by hijackers continue to be at a particular risk. “
“But to repeat, and be as clear as possible, we believe, on the basis of available information, that members of the TWA crew did not single out or otherwise jeopardize their passengers and apparently did much to mitigate the terror and brutality of the situation, ” the statement concluded. It also noted that during the meeting there was a review of videotapes of the initial news conference during which Derickson appeared last Sunday and other details provided by government sources.