NEW YORK (Aug. 1)
American Jewish groups have reacted with outrage to reports of the murder of Lt. Col. William Higgins by Moslem extremists in Lebanon, calling the apparent execution cruel, barbaric and brutal.
But Jewish leaders also tried to play down disagreements between Israel and the United States over the events of the past few days, emphasizing in their statements the threats that both countries face.
“The United States and Israel are fighting a common enemy — international terrorism,” said Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. He called the Higgins murder “a barbaric act that the civilized world must deplore.”
Leaders of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith issued a statement pointing out that “one of the major goals of terrorists is to foster dissent among civilized nations.
“The terrorists should not divert us from the main issue — the vicious and deliberate killing of civilians, as well as the taking of hostages,” the statement said.
Robert Lifton, president of the American Jewish Congress, said that the murder should remind both the United States and Israel of the need to take strong measures against terrorism.
“The murder of Col. Higgins also emphasizes the great risks for peace Israel is being asked to take — and which it is in fact taking,” Lifton said.
SEIZURE OF OBEID DEFENDED
A B’nai B’rith official criticized the attempt by some Americans to equate the holding of hostages by Shiite groups in Lebanon with Israel’s July 28 capture of a Shiite leader, Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid.
Thomas Neumann, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said that “even the use of the term ‘kidnapping’ or ‘abduction’ in reference to Israel’s arrest of a notorious terrorist is an affront to sensibility and justice.”
Harvey Feldman, international relations director of the American Jewish Committee, also decried such a comparison. Higgins, he noted, “was part of a U.N. peacekeeping mission, while Obeid was the commander of assassination brigades. There can be no equivalence.
“To say that international law forbids seizing killers where you find them is simply incorrect,” he added. “Israel, like other nations, has the right to take direct action against those who attack its citizens or plan terrorist acts on Israeli territory.”
The Zionist Organization of America also issued a statement saying Israel should not be blamed for the Higgins incident. “This is the time to stand with Israel against terrorism,” it said.
The Workmen’s Circle called for world pressure on the “Iranian masters” of Shiite fundamentalist groups to aid the release of all hostages.
One Jewish leader argued that now is not the time to be issuing statements. “I believe it is premature, so soon after the shocking news of Lt. Col. Higgins’ death, to be issuing statements before all the facts are in,” Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said — in a statement.