WASHINGTON (Nov. 30)
Members of the National Lawyers Guild delegation that had accused Israel of violating human rights and had been criticized by other lawyers’ organizations and Jewish organizations acknowledged Tuesday that they visited Lebanon at the invitation of the Palestine Liberation Organization and conferred with its leaders there, including Yasir Arafat.
The delegation also admitted that “money was made available by a private individual” for the 10-member delegation’s trip to Lebanon and Israel last year. The delegation refused to identify him, saying it was “not a matter of record.” The delegation acknowledged that seven of the travelers were “paid portions” of their expenses and three others paid their way. While in Israel, the delegation said it was hosted by Kibbutz Artzi, the kibbutz movement of Mapam.
Under questioning at a press conference at the National Press Club in connection with the distribution of a report by the majority of the delegation condemning Israel, three of the four representing the delegation were identified as “Jews,” and one of them — William Montross–added that they were Jewish “by birth, not by practice.”
Besides Montross, the participants in this group were William Schaap, a Washington lawyer, like Montross; Leah Tsemel, an Israeli lawyer; and Abdir Jabara, a Detroit lawyer who is a former president of the Arab-American University Graduates Association and editor of “Free Palestine,” a pro-PLO publication in Beirut.
STALE CHARGES REPEATED
The delegation’s 143-page report entitled “Treatment of Palestinians in Israeli Occupied West Bank and Gaza” contains charges frequently alleged in past years, including reports of torture. Israelis in turn have refuted the allegations.
When at one point Schaap accused the State Department of being hypocritical in criticizing some governments and basically “taking hands off Israel,” a reporter observed that the State Department has issued two reports condemning Israel and the Library of Congress has also issued criticism of Israel.
Montross said that the group made Jerusalem its base during the investigation in Israel and entered the West Bank and Gaza to meet with Arab leaders there over a six-day period. Their contact with Israeli authorities appeared limited to conversations of about two hours with Arye Naor, secretary of Israel’s Cabinet. They said they were unable to meet Israeli prison officials.
After the Guild delegation’s news conference, the American Jewish Congress sponsored a news conference on the same floor of the National Press Club. This was also attended by Montross, Schaap and Jabara. At the AJCongress conference, Howard Dickstein of Oakland, Calif., who was a member of the Guild delegation that made the investigatory trip, issued a minority report on his findings and denounced the delegation’s majority report as being distorted.
“This report serves political objectives of the PLO, “Dickstein said, “to have a report from an American legal delegation condemning Israel.” He added, “We were told to focus on human rights” because “reports like these could result in discrediting Israel and bringing about a liquidation of the moral support in the United States for Israel in an indirect but effective manner.”
Philip Baum, associate executive director of the AJCongress, noted that the lawyers’ panel which rebutted the Guild delegation group’s report said that the Guild had been “manipulated to serve the political objectives” of the PLO and that Jabara’s publication in 1976 carried “conclusions virtually identical to those of the majority report of the Guild.”
In a separate statement, Prof. Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School and Monroe Freedman, former dean of Hofstra University Law School, declared that “the principal sources of direct evidence cited in support of its conclusion that torture is systematically practiced and officially sanctioned by the Israeli government are interviews conducted with five Palestinians who were former prisoners in Israel’s Jails. But the report fails to disclose that these interviews were conducted at PLO headquarters with PLO selected former prisoners in the presence of armed PLO officials.”
A CASE OF RESHAPING REALITY
B’nai B’rith International denounced the National Lawyers Guild’s report as “a case of reshaping reality to fit a preconceived political viewpoint.” Jack J. Spitzer, B’nai B’rith’s president, declared in a statement that the report ignores the fact that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza “has been among the most benign in history.” He added that this has been in the face of acts by a foe determined to destroy Israel’s statehood.
Apart from the context of the report, Spitzer also questioned the legitimacy and impartiality of the Guild’s finding, in view of the “vague sources of funding” for their mission to the Middle East and publication of the report.