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‘what is the Alternative?’ Herzog Asks Critics of Beatings

President Chaim Herzog of Israel offered a resounding challenge this week to American Jewish leaders who have criticized Israel’s policy of beatings and curfews to put down rioting in the administered territories.

“The question that I must ask you is, what do you see as the alternative? . . . If you criticize our methods of achieving law and order, as many in Israel do, you should at least advise us what the alternative is,” Herzog stated.

“I believe that intellectual honesty requires that anybody who condemns us for what we are doing should suggest a proposal for alternative action.”

The president made the remarks in an open letter, published Tuesday, to Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the congregational arm of Reform Judaism in America.

Schindler, a staunch supporter of Israel, but also frequently an outspoken critic of some Israeli government policies, wrote to Herzog on Sunday, condemning the Israel Defense Force policy of beating rioters as a violation of human decency unworthy of the Jewish state and a travesty of Zionism. Schindler’s letter was published along with Herzog’s reply.

The Israeli president, whose office is nonpolitical and chiefly ceremonial, addressed his response to Schindler. But it was clearly intended for all Jewish leaders and spokespersons abroad who have publicly expressed dismay over the IDF’s “iron fist” policy.

Concurrently, the English-language Jerusalem Post published a scathing editorial attack Wednesday on American Jewish leaders, not for the content of their criticism, but for what the Post saw as their sudden outspokenness in the face of past acquiescence to the policies of previous Israeli governments that may have set the stage for the present crisis.(See related story.)

FIGHT AGAINST ‘KHOMEINISM’

Herzog, in his letter to Schindler, made some telling points. He maintained that by standing tough in the current unrest, Israel was holding the line against inflammatory Islamic fundamentalism — “Khomeinism” — which threatens not only Israel, but the entire Middle East. His reference was to the “holy war” fervor generated and spread by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran.

“The alternative facing us today, and indeed our neighbors such as Jordan and Egypt, is between suppressing these riots or allowing them to develop into a new Teheran or Beirut,” he wrote.

“Other countries in the area have reacted decisively to stem the onslaught of this fundamentalist wave,” Herzog pointed out. He noted that Israel has been singled out for denunciation, while the brutal suppression of demonstrators and dissenters by Arab governments have received little or no attention in the Western media.

The president asked why American television covered Israeli methods of controlling riots in the territories, but not similar situations in Fez, Morocco, where three Palestinian students were killed and 80 wounded in a recent student demonstration, or Irbid, Jordan, where eight Palestinian students were killed in another campus protest.

But the president did say that “the instructions issued to our security forces have been clarified following the public discussion which they evoked. There certainly was no order to beat indiscriminately and if there were divergences and irregularities, I am advised that steps have been taken to ensure that they do not occur.”

“I am sure that everything possible will be done by all responsible parties in Israel to ensure that the steps taken to preserve law and order are commensurate with the threat, and are legally and morally justifiable,” wrote Herzog.

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