PLO Should Consider Jewish Fear, Sociologist Tells Arab Americans
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PLO Should Consider Jewish Fear, Sociologist Tells Arab Americans

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The Palestine Liberation Organization should be more sensitive to Jewish concerns about a Palestinian state in the West Bank, a leading Jewish sociologist told 400 Arab-Americans on Friday.

Speaking here at the annual convention of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Professor Steven Cohen of Queens College, said, “In taking Jewish fear seriously, the PLO and their supporters would help us move closer to what ought to be our common goal, namely a secure Jewish State of Israel and a free Arab State of Palestine.”

Cohen’s speech, which ended with that line, drew widespread applause. ADC moderator Noha Ismail opened a five-panelist discussion by saying, “We don’t hear enough Jewish voices on what is being carried out in their name in the West Bank and Gaza.”

Cohen drew from his February 1989 survey of American Jewish attitudes, conducted for the American Jewish Committee, which found that recent statements by PLO leader Yasir Arafat and his aides “went so far as to convince a plurality of the Jewish public to endorse the U.S.-PLO dialogue.”

But he said PLO actions and positions “need to go even further so as to reduce the real and reasonable fears of American and Israeli Jews.”

“Israelis are not paranoid and they are not just reacting to their not-so-distant European history of death camps and pogroms,” he said. “Rather, Israelis have had first-hand and recent experience with real Arabs and Palestinian enemies.

“They wonder why several military attacks have been launched against Israeli civilian targets in the last few months, even after Chairman Arafat’s declaration” renouncing terrorism.


PLO response to such fears “with repeated, explicit and detailed statements and commitments ought not to be a sign of Palestinian weakness,” he argued, saying it could “symbolize a new-found sense of strength and confidence.”

“Israelis look at a map and see a Palestinian state pointing a dagger right at the heart of the Jewish population centers, even though I know that most of you look at the same map and see a Palestine nearly surrounded by a heavily armed Israeli military machine,” he said.

Cohen told the group there are “tough-minded Zionists” and “moralizing universalists,” with most Jews in the middle.

“Most American Jews remain convinced that Arabs are untrustworthy and that the PLO is a bunch of unreconstructed terrorists bent on Israel’s discussion,” he said.

Other Jews addressing the convention included:

Norman Finkelstein, a political scientist at Brooklyn College, who compared Israel to Vietnam and Nicaragua, and termed widespread Israeli public support for beatings, incarcerations, deportations and home demolitions “certifiable lunacy”;

Seymour Melman of the Jewish Committee on the Middle East, who said his group supports an end to U.S. aid to Israel.

Abie Nathan, the Israeli dove who has met several times with Arafat.

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