American Jewish Leaders Express Range of Views on Unrest in Gaza

Reactions by American Jewish organizations to unrest in Gaza and East Jerusalem have so far ranged from a call on Israel to achieve a political settlement of the Palestinian problem to harsh criticism of Jews and others outside of Israel who attempt to “dictate” Israeli policy.

A third, more centrist position is being taken by groups, such as the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who are urging Arab leaders to meet the Israelis on their continued appeal for direct negotiations.

In local communities, meanwhile, Jewish leaders are faced with a growing uneasiness over the image of Israel and the way it is being portrayed by the news media, to a degree not seen since Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

In a strongly-worded statement, Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said the outbreak of Arab-Israeli violence in Judaea, Samaria and Gaza “should shock Israel’s government” into ending the status quo in the administered territories.

“I fervently hope that the unity government in Jerusalem will act to defuse the violence, to restore order and to actively seek and find appropriate partners for the process of negotiation,” said Schindler.

The UAHC is the congregational body of the Reform movement.

A similar call for peace negotiations came from the American Committee for Israel Peace Center, the U.S. support group of the Tel Aviv-based International Center for Peace in the Middle East.

In a statement issued Monday, the committee urged Israel to strive for a political settlement, while at the same time refraining “from acts of force that will aggravate the present situation and increase friction within the local Palestinian population.”

Signers of the statement include Leonard Fein, former editor of Moment magazine; Philip Klutznick, honorary president of B’nai B’rith; Letty Cottin Pogrebin, an editor of Ms. magazine; and Menachem Rosensaft, founding chairperson of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.

PLO BLAMED FOR UNREST

Following a special meeting Monday with Moshe Arad, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Presidents Conference Chairman Morris Abram issued a statement saying that the unrest in the territories has “been planned, instigated and incited by Palestinian terrorists led by the PLO and Moslem fundamentalist groups.”

But Abram repeated a call for “dialogue and negotiations” between Israel and “Palestinian representatives who are prepared to live in peace with Israel.”

Abram also said that in the face of a continuing series of “provocations,” Israel has “sought to react with restraint.”

Also meeting Monday was the executive committee of the American Jewish Congress. According to Henry Siegman, the group’s executive director, the committee decided to stick by the position put forth in September by AJCongress, which supported Israel Foreign Minister Shimon Peres’ call for an international peace conference and warned of the potential for violence in the territories.

Siegman said in a telephone interview, however, that “Israel cannot be expected to yield to violence or come forward with proposals while this unrest continues. But that does not diminish the need to deal with those root causes once the violence is under control.”

Seymour Reich, president of B’nai B’rith International, said in a statement, “The answer to the unrest is the same as it always has been: face-to-face negotiations” between Israel and either neighboring Arab countries or Palestinian moderates.

But Reich urged caution and said that Israel “should not be panicked into hasty actions that will serve neither peace nor security.”

‘ARAB INTRANSIGENCE’

The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith also blamed the unrest on “Arab intransigence” in negotiating with Israel. In a statement issued by its national chairman, Burton Levinson, and its national director, Abraham Foxman, the group said that “peace in the Middle East would be better served if those who are condemning the violence would also press the Arab states and the PLO to recognize Israel’s existence.”

The Zionist Organization of America said it would not be drawn into the debate over Israel’s political options.

“We will resist falling into the trap of being critical of Israel because of Jewish super-sensitivity,” Paul Flacks, executive vice president of the ZOA, said in a telephone interview.

Flacks continued, however, that “the onus (for the violence) cannot be placed on Israel.” The roots of the unrest, he said, go back at least as far as 1974, when Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasir Arafat appeared before the United Nations and “the world community legitimized terrorism.”

Representing the Americans for a Safe Israel, Joseph Puder, its executive director, put the blame for the unrest on the PLO, saying that Arafat is “trying to be heard in the Arab world and in the Western media.”

If Israel is to be faulted at all, he said, it is for a relaxation of law and order in the territories since the days of the “strong hand” policies of one-time territorial governor Ariel Sharon and chief of staff Rafael Eitan.

Puder also had harsh words for critics of Israel within the Jewish community, the State Department and the news media. “Undiplomatic, hostile, if not anti-Semitic” was how Puder characterized statements by Richard Murphy, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, who last week voiced the Reagan administration’s opposition to many of Israel’s actions in the territories.

Puder said the news media have been “celebrating once again the opportunity to preach morality to Israel.”

Newspaper accounts and television coverage of confrontations between Israeli soldiers and Arab youths are being received in local Jewish communities with both sadness at the loss of life and concern over Israel’s image. Community leaders are monitoring whether news reports seem accurate or biased, and have expressed discomfort about comparisons being made between Israel and South Africa.

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