Behind the Headlines: U.S. Supporters of Peace Now Hurt, but Not Deterred, by Stance of PLO

American supporters of Peace Now have been staggered and hurt by the Palestine Liberation Organization’s support for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, but they remain convinced that dialogue and an ultimate settlement with the Palestinians is the only course that will bring peace to Israel.

“The morning after the Iraqi affair is settled, we must still deal with the Palestinians; nothing has changed in that,” said Ahavia Scheindlin, national executive committee chairwoman of Americans for Peace Now.

Stanley Sheinbaum, one of five American Jews who met with Yasir Arafat in Stockholm in December 1988, is even more emphatic. Asked if he would meet with the PLO leader today, he replied, “Yes. I would do anything for peace. I would meet with Arafat again, if there was anything to get out of him.”

But even Sheinbaum admitted that Arafat’s support for the Iraqi president had put Peace Now supporters on the defensive. Other local supporters of the movement used such words as despondency, despair, anger and disappointment to describe their initial reactions.

Much of the Los Angeles leadership of Peace Now met last week at Sheinbaum’s house, not to talk politics but to raise funds for Operation Exodus, the United Jewish Appeal campaign to help finance the massive Soviet Jewish emigration to Israel.

The evening, co-sponsored by the American Jewish Congress, attracted 85 people and raised $87,000 in pledges.

SUPPORT FOR OPERATION EXODUS

Richard Gunther, local co-chairman of Operation Exodus, declared himself pleased both with the monetary results and the fact that “the most liberal segment of the Jewish community” was solidly behind his campaign.

“From Peace Now to Chabad and the Wiesenthal Center, people who couldn’t get in the same room and agree about anything Jewish are behind Operation Exodus,” Gunther said.

Though backing for the Soviet aliyah was the main focus of the evening, the participants’ liberal agenda gave it a special emphasis.

“Our commitment to the Russian Jews does not end when they arrive in Israel. They must be able to settle in a secure, safe and just Israel,” said Rabbi Laura Geller of AJCongress.

“Every time we write a check (for Operation Exodus) we should also make a statement that no Soviet Jews be settled in the West Bank and that the money should not be diverted to other purposes,” said Scheindlin of Peace Now.

Sheinbaum took a less categorical approach, warning that in a volatile world, the immediate rescue of Soviet Jews should take precedence over any other consideration. “We must support Operation Exodus, even if we cannot get an assurance from the Israeli government that none of the money will be used in the territories,” he said.

In interviews, both Scheindlin and Sheinbaum denied they had ever placed any personal trust in Arafat or that his maneuverings were relevant to the ultimate goals of Peace Now. Nevertheless, they both blamed Israeli and American policies for pushing Arafat into the pro-Iraqi camp.

“There was no reward for Arafat for turning moderate,” said Sheinbaum. The PLO leader “might not have tilted to Baghdad if the U.S. and Israeli governments had been more forthcoming,” he said.

LIBERAL EMBARRASSMENT

Sheinbaum criticized some leaders of the peace movement in Israel and the United States who have said they are re-examining their past positions or see no sense at this point in further negotiations with the PLO and Palestinians.

“It’s a failing of liberals that they can’t stand embarrassment,” he said. “Critics who claim that Peace Now’s credibility has been damaged because Arafat’s credibility has been damaged set a trap, and some liberals walked right into it. But Arafat has never been the issue.”

Americans for Peace Now became a membership organization only this year. It claims 10,000 members nationwide and about 3,000 in Los Angeles alone. Spokespersons for the group said there had been no protests or resignations by members since the Aug. 2 Iraqi aggression.

“In a sense, Peace Now is stronger now,” said Sheinbaum. “When people heard about the meeting at my house for Operation Exodus, they wanted it to be through Peace Now, to show the flag, so to say.”

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