NEW YORK (Jan. 27)
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations gave its support Wednesday to Israel’s handling of unrest in the administered territories, based on assurances from Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir that Israel has not adopted a policy of randomly beating Palestinian troublemakers.
In a statement read at a news conference here by Morris Abram, the conference chairman, the group said that while the “use of force is sometimes indispensable to restore order,” Israel “does not have a policy of indiscriminate beatings.”
Abram said the statement was based on a message he received from Shamir on Tuesday. In the message, which Abram read aloud, the prime minister affirmed that Israel has not and will not adopt a policy of suing beatings to prevent violent disturbances.
“The use of indiscriminate beatings or any kind of excessive force by our security people is not permitted,” Shamir was quoted as saying. The use of force is sanctioned only for the purpose of breaking up violent demonstrations, for self-defense and for those resisting arrest.”
The gist of the conference statement was hammered out Monday at an emergency meeting of the group’s 42 member organizations. The conference decided to issue the statement in response to reports of an Israeli policy of beating Palestinian demonstrators to quell rioting.
The beatings policy was announced last week and defended again Tuesday by Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who said that use of clubs has helped instill Palestinian fear of the Israel Defense Force.
The policy has aroused considerable concern and some sharp reaction among American Jewish organizations.
On Tuesday, following meetings in Israel with Rabin, Shamir and other Israeli leaders, the American Jewish Congress released a strongly-worded statement saying that the beatings had spread beyond the rioters to include the “brutalization of innocents” and “must not only be stopped immediately, but repudiated if Israel is to preserve its good name.”
On Sunday, Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Reform congregational body, sent a cable to President Chaim Herzog calling the beatings policy “an offense to the Jewish spirit” that “violates every principle of human decency” and “betrays the Zionist dream.”
Two Orthodox Jewish groups took issue Wednesday with Schindler’s criticism. Rabbi Milton Polin, president of the Rabbinical Council of American, said in a statement that “even on matters of Jewish morality, if not international law, Schindler is off the mark. Self-defense, even including the use of a pre-emptive strike, is fully justified in biblical and talmudic tradition.”
And in a second statement, the National Council of Young Israel, representing Modern Orthodox synagogues, said it “deplores” the Schindler and AJCongress statements for “hurling damaging invectives against Israel’s policy in Judea and Samaria.”
At Wednesday’s news conference, Abram called the Conference of Presidents “harmonious and unified” and said that even Schindler agreed with the consensus statement.
Reached Wednesday by telephone in California, Schindler concurred that he is “substantially in agreement” with the conference statement and similar assurances from Herzog that “orders given to Israeli soldiers are being clarified.”
The conference statement defended Israel’s “right and responsibility to protect the security of its people and the integrity of its institutions” and to “restore order as the precondition to any redress of grievances.”
But while saying that a policy of beatings would be “wrong and inconsistent” with Israel’s historic policy and practice, the statement pointed out that “in every country including our own, police officers are equipped with weapons, including billy clubs, to maintain order and to protect the lives and property of local residents against mob rule.”
‘BETRAYED BY THE ARAB NATIONS’
The statement acknowledged that Palestinian Arabs are frustrated with the lack of progress on resolving the future of the administered territories, but pointed out that they “have been abandoned and betrayed by the Arab nations with whom they share a common tradition, language and culture.”
Abram referred to an invitation extended on the eve of December’s superpower summit in Washington by Secretary of State George Schultz for both Shamir and Jordan’s King Hussein to begin direct peace talks with the “blessings” of the United States and the Soviets. Only Hussein refused to take part, Abram said.
The conference statement called for the emergence of “a representative group of nonviolent Palestinians” and “responsible Arab leaders, and especially King Hussein,” to accept Israel’s continuing invitation to negotiate a settlement.
Asked by reporters whether Shamir’s message contradicted statements being made by Rabin about the policy, Abram said that “if accurate,” Rabin’s remarks are counter to the policy set by Shamir and the Cabinet.
Abram said he was “sure some indiscriminate beatings occurred,” but that the solders taking part would be disciplined.
Rabin promised Tuesday that he would launch full investigations into reported excesses by soldiers.