WASHINGTON (Dec. 27)
American Jewish leaders and key Reagan administration policymakers disagree “by 10 percent” in how they view Israel’s handling of violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, according to Morris Abram, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Their discrepancy revolves around Israel’s use of live ammunition in quelling riots and its lack of riot police, said Abram after he and more than 25 Jewish organizational representatives met Thursday morning with four State Department officials.
They included Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead and Richard Murphy, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs.
Abram paraphrased Whitehead as saying “in emphatic terms” that the disagreements do not “in any way impair or impinge the close special relationship” between the two countries. Whitehead reassured the leaders that the close strategic relationship will continue, Abram said.
‘BUMP IN THE ROAD’
The Jewish leader termed the differences “merely a bump in the road” in relations between the United States and Israel. He also said that he has been “repeatedly” in touch with the Israeli government regarding its “image problem — because of small bites on the television sets, which may not be representative of the true circumstances.”
On the subject of Israel’s handling of the unrest, Abram conceded that “it would be better if Israel had better equipment for dealing with riots.”
But he asserted that U.S. criticism was too harsh, pointing out that when the Persian Gulf crisis erupted, “the United States didn’t have minesweepers for the Persian Gulf. No military or paramilitary or police force ever has the right equipment, in the right place, in the right time, under the right circumstances, in the right hands.”
On the issue of Israeli soldiers fatally shooting rioting Palestinian civilians, Abram questioned whether it was reasonable for any government to use simply water cannon, shields and helmets “against persons who are engaged in a guerrilla war.”
However, he added, “We have no doubt that there have been individual incidents in which a better trained force could have done the job with some degree of improvement.”
Abram said he had requested the meeting to “express our very deep concerns with some of the statements” made by the White House and State Department on Israel’s role in the violence. He said his primary concern was statements “equaling” Israel’s actions to those of the rioters.
He did not call for the State Department to retract any of its statements, but he did criticize past statements for failing to differentiate between “those who are responsible under international law, namely Israel, to produce and to control order in the territories, with those whose object is to uproot order and to create disorder and violence.”
‘ATTEMPT TO OVERTHROW’
“What we are faced here with is the attempt to overthrow not only the government of Israel in the territories, but the government of Israel in Israel — it is an extension of terrorism,” he said.
In specifying the conference’s concerns. Abram asserted that U.S. statements have referred to the protestors as demonstrators. “They are not college campus protesters,” he said. “They come with Molotov cocktails and gasoline bombs.”
Abram said that the rioters’ “purpose is not to make a point but to overthrow the rule which under international law Israel must continue in Gaza until some other rule is found,” Abram said.
Abram called peace “the overriding concern,” but said it cannot be pursued until order is restored.