PHOENIX, Ariz. (Apr. 5)
Two Arizona lawmakers have joined the ongoing battle against a 1985 agreement between the American Bar Association (ABA) and the Association of Soviet Lawyers (ASL).
Pauline Yearwood of the Greater Phoenix Jewish News reported that Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D.) and Rep. Jon Kyl (R.) said they opposed the agreement because it symbolized acceptance of Soviet human rights violations.
“I am deeply concerned about the many facts reflecting a lack of respect of human rights, and strong proof of an anti-Semitic philosophy among the ASL leadership,” DeConcini said.
ASL has been involved most notably in the publication of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist writings together with the Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Public.
Kyl said that as a 20-year member of the ABA he was “ashamed that the ABA would be involved in a thing like this.” He said he was developing a strategy aimed at convincing the ABA to abrogate the agreement during its annual summer meeting.
He also is planning to bring up the matter before the House of Representatives and said he is trying to convince members of Congress to sign a letter asking for an end to the agreement.
A BARRAGE OF CRITICISM
These statements followed a barrage of criticism aimed at statements made by ABA president Eugene Thomas of Boise, Idaho, during the ABA’s mid-year meeting in New Orleans in February. He was reported to have said that members of the Task Force on ABA-Soviet Relations who were protesting the lawyers’ agreement “are scarred by the Holocaust” and focused on “family concerns” while ABA is involved in “larger issues.”
Patience Huntwork, who led the demonstrators along with fellow Phoenix attorney Orest Jejna, denounced Thomas’ reported statement as “neither factually accurate nor pertinent to the issue of the ABA’s ties to the Soviets.
“Furthermore, it was inappropriate and insensitive… It is a sad state of affairs when the president of the American Bar Association does not appear to understand the full implications of the Holocaust.”
SAYS REMARKS WERE TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT
Thomas indicated to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that his remarks were taken out of context. A transcript his office provided showed the remarks were contained in his reply to a question at a press conference, “Why is there this apparent difference in the agenda of the picketers and the agenda of the ABA?”
Thomas reportedly said: “Well, it’s different in the sense that these are people who were deeply scarred by the Holocaust, as I think all of us are in varying degrees. The Holocaust was not limited to Jewish people and the horror is not limited to any particular religion or race.
“But, yes, I think their focus is on their families, their hurt, their fears. We’re also focused on the need to deal with terrorism, world trade, environmental laws … So our agenda is broader than theirs … We differ on means and strategy, not goals; now the ABA must follow its best judgment and that includes talking to people with whom we disagree.”
He reiterated those statements to JTA and added that the ABA alliance had strong support from the Jewish community. “In my view the majority of Jewish people and Jewish organizations strongly support and greatly appreciate the lawyers involved in this important effort,” he said.
However, the Jewish News noted, because of alleged ASL ties to Soviet anti-Semitism, a number of Jewish groups–including the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and the community relations committees of Jewish federations in Greater Baton Rouge, Greater Miami, Greater Phoenix, Greater Seattle and Northern New Jersey–have called on the ABA to abrogate the agreement.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center also was critical of Thomas’ remarks, but did not call for an end to the agreement.
And among the demonstrators at the ABA convention, according to the Jewish News, were William Wolf, a member of Arizona Action for Soviet Jewry; Yigal Bander, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Baton Rouge, La., and other Louisiana Jews.