NEW YORK (Nov. 27)
Major American Jewish organizations are gratified that the United States will not allow Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat to enter the country for a speech Thursday at the United Nations.
In a number of public statements made after the decision was announced Saturday, groups praised the Reagan administration for rejecting terrorism and for repeating its dissatisfaction with the outcome of the Palestine National Council’s recent session in Algiers.
In more personal conversations, leaders of many of the groups also expressed satisfaction that the United States rejected Arafat’s visa request without a major lobbying effort by Jewish organizations.
Arafat requested the visa in order to address the annual U.N. General Assembly debate on the Palestinian situation, which begins this week.
The State Department said that since Arafat is responsible for PLO elements that “have engaged in terrorism against Americans and others,” he would continue to be denied a visa under a law that prohibits identified terrorists from entering the country.
Arab nations immediately denounced the U.S. decision. European nations, who have been more supportive than the United States of the PLO’s statements in Algiers, and U.N. officials may also weigh in with criticism.
But Jewish groups were expansive in their praise.
“Once again the United States has taken a world leadership role by rejecting terrorism and clearly stating that those who are its advocate are not welcome,” Milton Shapiro, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said in a statement released Sunday.
QUIET LOBBYING EFFORT
The government’s decision “gives the lie to recent attempts by the PLO to camouflage its true nature and goals,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
In the weeks prior to the decision, the Conference of Presidents was among those groups who were uncharacteristically reserved in pressing the government to deny the visa.
While most groups communicated their concern over the Arafat visit to U.S. officials during the last few weeks, the lobbying effort was mild, compared to an earlier attempt to close the PLO observer mission to the United Nations.
While the Justice Department did order the mission closed earlier this year, a federal judge in Manhattan overturned the order. The battle over the mission’s closure and the subsequent court order was seen as a public relations victory for the PLO.
Administration officials and legislators were credited this time for their clear opposition to any entry request by Arafat. Earlier this month, 51 U.S. senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Shultz urging him to deny a visa request from Arafat. Shultz, in turn, was reported to have resisted pressure from other State Department officials in turning down Arafat’s application.
“We waited to see what the government wanted to do, without putting on a campaign or battle,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
“The message was passed that the American Jewish community would not like to have him here, without threats. When the 51 senators signed, it sent a clear message,” he said.
Ira Silverman, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said organized Jewry’s reaction to Arafat’s visa request represents a cooler approach on so-called symbolic issues.
That approach allows organizations to “reserve all our efforts for direct support for Israel, when major items are on the table,” Silverman said.
One major effort was planned in the event Arafat was granted a visa: a public demonstration and educational campaign to be coordinated by the Conference of Presidents and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
Although that initiative has been canceled, there is concern that Arafat will be given a platform if Arab nations try to move the General Assembly debate on the Palestinians outside the United States, possibly to United Nations headquarters in Geneva.