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Former Carter Aide Urges Israelis to Recognize the ‘right and Duty’ of U.S. Jews to Speak out when T

April 6, 1983
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Stuart Eizenstat, a former aide to President Jimmy Carter, has urged Israelis to recognize that American Jewry has “the right and duty” to speak out when it disagrees with Israeli policies. He maintained that this right derived from its acceptance of the Zionist credo of the centrality of Israel in Jewish life.

Eizenstat, who was the senior Jewish member of the White House staff during the Carter Administration, stressed this view in an article in the Labor Party affiliated newspaper Davar. It was an expansion of the address he delivered at the recent meeting of the Board of Governors of Ben Gurion University in Beersheba.

In the article, the former Presidential assistant enumerated some of the present Israeli policies and relationships which disturb American Jews. He also described the changed attitude toward Israel which has occurred within the Reagan Administration.

“We are one nation, linked by one fate, regardless of our dispersion. The focal point of our solar system is Israel” and “there can be no distinguishing between the land, the Jewish religion and our future survival,” he wrote.


However, Eizenstat stressed that the diaspora is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, and it is “time to put an end to the bitterness over our decision to stay in America.” The right and duty of American Jews to involve themselves in disputation with Israel cannot be dismissed by the argument that they do not live here and do not face the dangers and therefore should not speak out, he said.

Eizenstat observed that “Israel’s actions determine whether the values of Judaism can be tenable in the geopolitical realities of the modern world … whether a modern state can be based on Jewish values.”

Diaspora Jewry must make its voice heard both on issues cardinal to the Jewish people and on key Israeli policy issues, he asserted.

Among the issues which affect American Jewry, Eizenstat listed the “Who is a Jew” controversy, the government-imposed ban on Sabbath flights by the Israeli airline, El Al, and Premier Menachem Begin’s “close relationship” with Jerry Falwell, leader of the Moral Majority.

“We must demand with all our insistance that there be religious pluralism in Israel.” The proposed Orthodox amendment of the Law of Return would cause a “deep division” in diaspora Jewry, he warned.

Eizenstat contended that Begin should be urged to have greater sensitivity to Falwell’s position on school prayer. The Moral Majority seeks to “Christianize America” and poses a threat to religious pluralism in the United States, he said. Begin, without rejecting Falwell’s friendship for Israel, should be “more careful” in his approach to him.

Eizenstat was sharply critical of Begin’s flat rejection of President Reagan’s Middle East peace initiative, announced by the President last September 1. He observed that had President Carter launched such an initiative, “American Jewry would have arisen in outcry and would have excoriated him.”

But now, despite its rejection by Israel, key American Jewish leaders were finding positive elements in the Reagan proposals and were “even recommending the plan,” Eizenstat wrote. He added that since the Beirut refugee camps massacre, such expressions of dissent by American Jews were increasing.

The attitude of the United States has also undergone a basic change with the departure of Secretary of State Alexander Haig and his replacement by George Shultz, Eizenstat wrote.

He said Haig represented a marked divergence from the traditional State Department line of even-handedness in the Middle East. “He believed that Israel was a faithful ally, a strategic asset, a vital link in a strategic alliance that he hoped to forge with pro-Western Arab states against Soviet penetration. This alliance took priority in Haig’s eyes over resolving the Palestinian problem,” Eizenstat wrote.

By contrast, the present Secretary of State, described by Eizenstat as an honest, able, fair and patient man, has a Middle East conception “closer to that of the Carter Administration — including Carter himself — and that traditionally espoused by the State Department. This approach regards the solution of the Palestinian problem as the central hinge around which all other Mideast matters are resolved. According to this conception, only if the Palestinian instability is alleviated and regional tensions eased, will the problem which the Soviets are seeking to exploit fade away.”

Eizenstat said Reagan’s initiative reflected his endorsement of Shultz’s approach and with Shultz, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and National Security Advisor William Clark at the helm of American policy, there is no one in the top echelon fighting for Israel’s viewpoint.

Therefore, Eizenstat predicted there would be “no withdrawal” from Reagan’s September 1 proposals because the President and his Secretary of State have invested too much in them to warrant their abandonment.


Eizenstat also spoke of the basic change in Israel since the Begin government took office. “Simply put, Begin is implementing the Revisionist policy of trying, de facto, to absorb the West Bank into Israel and to hold it under Israeli sovereignty.” The problem, however, is that this policy endangers the Jewish character of Israel if the West Bank Arabs are given political rights and endangers the democratic character of Israel if they are not, Eizenstat wrote.

He asserted that ever since Begin took office there has been discomfort in some American Jewish circles which recent developments have brought into the open. “Many American Jews do not support the de facto or de jure annexation of the West Bank because this would lead to a radical change in the democratic character of Israel,” Eizenstat said.

American Jews are aware of this political argument within Israel itself and feel they have a right to state their views. He said many of them also fear privately that Israel’s increasing isolation would cause a rise of anti-Semitism in the U.S. where, Eizenstat claimed, a recent poll showed that more than 50 percent of the people believe American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the U.S.

Eizenstat stressed that this vocal dissent on the part of American Jewish organizations was “not going to be a passing phenomenon” but it need not be a bitter argument between them and the Israel government. If the dialogue proceeds properly, it could actually enhance American Jewry’s ability to influence the Administration’s policy, he said.

The former White House aide warned, however, that American Jewry must take care in voicing its views on Israeli national security issues. “We must find new methods of communication that will make it easier for us to hold a dialogue on the effect of Israeli policies upon Jews and upon public opinion in the U.S. If American Jews are not prepared to support blindly every decision of the government of Israel — just as they do not support every decision of the U.S. government — they must beware lest they be used by the Administration as a stick with which to beat Israel,” Eizenstat wrote.

Furthermore, he said, American Jews must not allow themselves to be browbeaten by insinuations regarding their patriotism. American Jews must carefully chose the issue upon which they involve themselves on the side of Israel and these must be only issues crucial to the defense of Israel, Eizenstat wrote. “Support for more settlements and for annexation of the West Bank is not one of those issues.”

Finally, Eizenstat observed that no state in the modern world can live “according to supreme moral injunctions” and Israel ought not to be expected to act according to ideals no other state embraces. “Of course, we want Israel to maintain the high moral standards of our faith, but that is not always possible when her enemies refuse to live according to those rules. There is nothing in the Jewish faith that prescribes national suicide,” Eizenstat wrote.

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