L.A. Jewish Leaders’ Meeting With Jackson in Jeopardy

Times Political Writer

A meeting next week between Los Angeles Jewish leaders and Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson appears to be in jeopardy because the two sides are having trouble agreeing on ground rules.

Jackson is apparently concerned that the meeting will be dominated by hostile questions to him, and some Jewish leaders want to make sure certain issues are not glossed over as a good-will gesture.

‘Anything Could Happen’

“The whole situation is so fluid anything could happen at this point,” Rabbi Allen Freehling, the meeting’s instigator, said Wednesday.


Originally, Freehling had reached an agreement with Jackson representatives for a free-wheeling discussion between the candidate and about 80 top Jewish leaders in Los Angeles next Wednesday.

“But, on Monday of this week,” Freehling said, “when we sat down to figure out how to maximize this opportunity, it was decided to shift responsibility for the meeting to the Jewish Federation. Subsequently, there has been a series of meetings between the federation and Jackson representatives over format and site.”

Freehling, rabbi of University Synagogue in Brentwood, was referring to the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, which is an umbrella group for Jewish organizations in the city.

Friendly to Jackson

According to one source familiar with the situation, as long as Freehling was in charge of the meeting, Jackson was comfortable with it because Freehling has been friendly to him in the past and is considered one of the most liberal rabbis in Los Angeles.

But, the source said, the ground rules now have to be renegotiated because the meeting will probably be much larger and could be dominated by hostile questions about Jackson’s stormy relationship with American Jewish leaders.

One such leader who definitely plans to ask “tough questions” is Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, the national group that battles anti-Semitism around the world.

“We are not attending a birthday party here,” Hier said Wednesday. “Jesse Jackson is a serious candidate for the highest office in the land and he should expect tough questions from American Jews because his record on Israel and on Jews is one of great concern to Jewish people.”

Hier assailed Jackson for not meeting with some New York Jewish leaders during the primary there last month.

“He said such a meeting would not be a meeting of reconciliation but a platform for attacks. But he must know that when he meets with Jewish leaders he is going to be very closely scrutinized . . . .

Issue of Israel Cited

“Every American President since (Harry S.) Truman has said that Israel is America’s closest ally in the Middle East, and Jackson does not appear to believe that and would apparently alter that relationship if he were elected President. This is of deepest concern to Jewish people who remember how low our self-confidence and pride were before the establishment of the state of Israel.”

In recent years, Jackson has urged Arab states in the Middle East to recognize Israel’s right to exist and has called on Israel and Palestinian representatives to work out a solution to the violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Calls to Jackson’s Chicago campaign office were referred to the Los Angeles office, where Royce Osborn, assistant press secretary, said: “We are not being given any information on the meeting. It is between Rev. Jackson himself and the Jewish leaders.”

Large Jewish Vote Bloc

Jackson is expected to campaign extensively for the June 7 California primary, in which Jews make up about 8% to 10% of the Democratic vote.

Ron Rieder, a spokesman for the Jewish Federation, said: “We’re pushing as hard as possible to get the ground rules set up for this meeting. But we are running out of time to get in touch with everybody and set it up.”