Former U.S. Atty. Gen. Ramsey Clark was canceled as main speaker at an April 6 Jewish Federation Council fund-raising dinner at the Century Plaza after complaints that Clark has been representing both Palestinians and a Nazi war crimes suspect in court, the dinner chairman said Tuesday.
Donald Etra said the invitation to Clark was withdrawn Friday because "many people in the community felt that some of the people he was representing did not represent the feeling of the Jewish community."
Specifically, Etra said there was unhappiness that Clark is defending the Palestine Liberation Organization in a suit brought by the family of murdered Achille Lauro passenger Leon Klinghoffer, and that he is defense counsel for Karl Linnas, an Estonian suspect of Nazi war crimes who is fighting deportation to the Soviet Union.
Link to PLO Faction
Although the attorney did not mention it, Clark also is part of the defense team for eight suspected members in the Los Angeles area of a Marxist faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization whom federal authorities have been trying to deport.
Etra said Clark was originally chosen to speak at the dinner by federation staff members who "weren't aware of his recent positions."
The dinner was scheduled to honor Bruce I. Hochman, immediate past president of the Jewish Federation. The federation describes itself as an umbrella group of Jewish social service agencies in the Los Angeles area.
A federation spokeswoman said Joseph Sisco, a former assistant U.S. secretary of state for Middle Eastern affairs, has been retained to speak in Clark's place.
The former attorney general will be paid his $2,000 to $2,500 fee in order to head off any possible lawsuit for breach of contract, said Morris Sherman, director of the United Jewish Fund, the fund-raising arm of the federation.
In an interview with the Daily News, Sherman blamed one of his secretaries, whom he did not identify, for originally picking Clark as the speaker. His office said he was not available to elaborate on this Tuesday.
Clark, who was in Europe this week, will probably comment on the matter when he returns to his office today, said a law associate, Bob Schwartz. "It's unfortunate you have these kind of restrictions on speech," Schwartz said from New York.
One of those who said he complained in writing to Jewish Federation officials when he learned Clark was the designated speaker was Eli Weinbach, co-chair of the Los Angeles Committee of Concerned Lawyers for Soviet Jews.
Weinbach, stressing that he had written on his own stationery and was speaking individually, said Tuesday, "I have no problem with Mr. Linnas having Mr. Clark as a lawyer. He is clearly entitled to have a lawyer and Clark is clearly entitled to represent him. However, since he is voluntarily doing so, it would be inappropriate for Mr. Clark to speak at our dinner."
Response From Rabbi
Another person who objected to Clark's appearance was Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Cooper said he was particularly unhappy to read recently that Clark had questioned why anyone was seeking vengeance and retribution, 40 years after the fact, against perpetrators of Nazi war crimes.
"In our opinion, that's absolutely crossing the line," Cooper said. "We are seeking a symbolic measure of justice, considering the magnitude of crimes these people were involved with."
Etra, meanwhile, expressed hope that "the main purpose of the dinner, namely to raise funds for the Jewish community here in Los Angeles, and worldwide, is not lost, irrespective of anyone's feelings about who was invited to speak."