Jewish Groups Assail Israeli Use of Force
Putting aside their reluctance to criticize Israeli policy, two mainline U.S. Jewish organizations have protested Israel’s use of widespread force to quell rioting among the Arab populations of the occupied Gaza Strip and the West Bank of the Jordan River.
Theodore Ellenoff, president of the American Jewish Committee, said in an interview Tuesday that the leadership of his organization sent telegrams Saturday to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin to indicate their dismay.
“In the communication, we underscored our distaste for this kind of disproportionate physical reaction and our concern as to how our membership would greet it and how the citizens of the United States would interpret such actions,” said Ellenoff, a New York attorney.
Met With Rabin
In a separate statement, the president of the American Jewish Congress said he made similar points in a meeting with Rabin earlier this week.
Theodore R. Mann told a press conference in Tel Aviv that the current policy “is regarded by us as inhumane and simply unacceptable.” He also said that its costs in terms of lost support for Israel is “far, far too great.”
Ellenoff said such public reprimands to Israel are unusual, “because for the most part, the American Jewish community has been solidly in support of the State of Israel, and they continue to be.” But the Israeli response to more than six weeks of civil unrest, which has claimed the lives of at least 36 Palestinians, prompted widespread concern because of its “obvious anti-democratic tendencies,” he said.
Citing the use of nighttime arrests and reported beatings of people who did not take part actively in rioting, Ellenoff said that “American Jews, like, undoubtedly, Americans in general, would recoil from such practices.”
The comments from Mann and Ellenoff came after Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, sent a cable to Israeli President Chaim Herzog denouncing the Israeli policy as “madness” and pleading for the beatings to stop.
Several Jewish leaders also confirmed an Israel Radio report that Morris B. Abram, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, had told Rabin by telephone that the Israeli policy was losing support in the United States.
Abram has neither denied nor confirmed the report, but he scheduled a press conference in New York today at which the question is certain to come up.
Abram is seen as the premier spokesman for the organized Jewish community in the United States, which is far from unanimous on this issue, as on many others.
“The ADL would have handled it differently,” said Burton Levinson, a Los Angeles attorney who is national president of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
“The ADL says that Israel is doing the very best it can in a difficult situation, and its commitment to democratic values will prevail,” Levinson said. “I’m sure that the government of Israel knows what’s occurring here, and we’d not have wanted to add any pressure to that.”