Still reeling from the terror that hit Israel last week, Jewish activists reacted with strong, and sometimes mixed, emotions to the news that Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat would share the Nobel Peace Prize with Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
Although some in the organized Jewish community praised the awards, many said they were troubled by the Nobel committee’s decision to honor Arafat.
Many Jewish leaders labeled it premature, while others felt Arafat simply did not deserve it. A minority of organizations praised the committee for its selection.
Ironically, last Friday’s announcement in Oslo came just hours before 19-year-old Cpl. Nachshon Waxman, the Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas terrorists, was murdered during an explosive attempt to rescue him. One of his Israeli rescuers, Nir Poraz, and three Hamas terrorists also were killed during the failed rescue mission.
Immediately after the announcement, committee member Kare Kristiansen resigned in protest, as he had threatened to do.
Kristiansen, a conservative, pro-Israel former Norwegian government minister, said he did not object to Rabin and Peres receiving the award. But he called Arafat a former terrorist who is "tainted by violence and bloodshed."
The three leaders will share the $950,000 prize, which will be presented, along with gold medals and diplomas, at a Dec. 10 ceremony in Oslo.
In Israel, reaction was muted because of the events surrounding Waxman’s kidnapping.
In a statement read by a spokesman, Rabin congratulated his co-winners. However, he warned Arafat that the PLO faced a key test and that violence against Israel has to stop.
"If there will not be security, there will also not be peace," Rabin said. "Today the Palestinians face the moment of truth. If they do not defeat the enemies of peace, the enemies of peace will defeat them."
Foreign Minister Peres’ surprise inclusion in the award was met with shouts of happiness at his office.
Early reports of the impending award did not mention Peres, who was credited with much of the legwork that led to the signing of the Israeli-PLO peace accord in September 1993.
However, Peres himself was more restrained. He told reporters that fundamentalists had tried to "kidnap peace and destroy it."
Arafat, speaking during a visit to Egypt, said, "The prize is not for me. It is for my people who suffered a lot, people who have been able to achieve the peace of the brave."
Members of the opposition called on Rabin and Peres to boycott the prize because it also had been awarded to Arafat.
"The fact that the prize is given to the person who invented international terrorism," said Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, "turns the prize into a farce."
In the United States meanwhile, a minority of Jewish leaders supported the Nobel committee’s decision. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said Arafat had "earned the award."
"The Nobel Peace Prize does not award sainthood, it awards an act or a series of acts," Foxman said.
Americans for Peace Now’s executive director, Gary Rubin, said the prize is appropriate in "clearly marking a major step that deserves a major award."
‘AN AWARD DELIVERED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PLAY’
Noting that "we are seeing an award being delivered in the middle of the play, and not at the final curtain," Rubin said, "It is a legitimate recognition of three leaders who reversed 100 years of warfare between two peoples."
However, other Jewish leaders traditionally supportive of Arafat’s peace initiatives privately expressed concern that the award is premature, and questioned whether Arafat has shown enough resolve to combat terrorism and lead his people to democracy.
Others were more outspoken in their opposition. At the United Nations in New York, U.S. Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) joined representatives from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Lisa Klinghoffer, whose father was killed aboard the Achille Lauro by PLO terrorists, to protest the award.
Schumer accused the Nobel committee of "jumping the gun."
"The Nobel prize committee should have considered Arafat’s past, present and future," Schumer said. "His past has been abhorrent, his present is at best incomplete, and his future is unknown. Therefore he fails all three tests."
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, called the award "repugnant and revolting."
"Arafat has shown that he has not reformed himself of his brutal past," said Klein, who has spearheaded efforts to track PLO compliance with the peace accords and regularly publishes a list of violations. "This award was given prematurely."
Herbert Zweibon, chairman of Americans for a Safe Israel, said the Nobel committee had belittled the peace prize by awarding it to Arafat.
"The peace prize is no longer a symbol of peace, but a testimony that terrorism pays," he said.
Joining the fray, the Orthodox Union urged Rabin and Peres to refuse the award because of the "offensive addition of Yasser Arafat."
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.