Two Jewish Leaders Assess Israel’s Involvement in Iran-contra Episode

Rabbi Alexander Schindler has questioned “the wisdom of Israel’s involvement in the scheme” of the Reagan Administration to sell arms to Iran and divert the proceeds to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. But he deplored what he called the Administration’s “attempts to scapegoat Israel for this misadventure.” Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, spoke Sunday at a meeting of the UAHC’s policy-making board of trustees at the Stouffer Westchester Hotel in White Plains.

In Jerusalem, meanwhile, Seymour Reich, international president of B’nai B’rith, said his organization views Israel’s assistance to the U.S. as tangible proof of the solid alliance existing between the two countries.

Reich told Israeli reporters at a press conference that “The U.S. Congress has not been critical of Israel’s role” though it has been highly critical of the Administration. “Several leading Congressmen have in fact gone on record to express their full belief in Israel’s explanation of her activities,” Reich said.

Israel has admitted facilitating the shipment of U.S. arms to Iran, at the specific request of the Reagan Administration, but has steadfastly denied any role in or knowledge of the transfer of monies to the Contras, Israel was directly implicated in the transfer by U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese at a White House press conference November 25.

President Reagan, in an interview with Time magazine published November 26, did not mention Israel by name but was widely perceived as referring to Israel when he blamed “another country” for diverting profits from the arms sale to the Contras who his Administration strongly backs in their attempt to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.

SCHINDLER ATTACKS REAGAN’S REMARKS

Schindler assailed Reagan’s remarks. “It is not Jerusalem but Washington that has an obsession with overturning the Sandinista regime,” he said. “In the welter of rumor and confusion surrounding this affair, one fact is clear: Israel acted at the behest of, with the knowledge of, and with the consent of the Reagan Administration. It did so as a faithful ally of our country. To say otherwise is to pervert the truth and to betray a friend. There can be no justification for the various attempts to scapegoat Israel for this misadventure.”

Schindler said that in agreeing to supply arms to Iran, “Israel also hoped to buy safety for Iran’s still substantial and endangered Jewish community.”

He noted further that “Israel, too, has long-term geopolitical considerations at play. It calculated that the Persian nation — distant from Israel, hostile to many Arab states — is not as great a threat to its security as is Iraq” with which Iran is at war.

Nevertheless, Schindler said, “Israel was tainted by the blunder of this multi-nation gamble, and the moral authority of its own stance against state-sponsored terrorism was severely impaired.” Reich said in Jerusalem that Israel must act in accordance with her own interests while respecting the policies of a close ally such as the United States.

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