NEW YORK — The head of one of the nation's largest and most influential Jewish organizations, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, called upon Israel on Sunday to stop the "indiscriminate" beating of Palestinian Arabs because "it violates every principle of human decency."
In a strongly worded telegram to Chaim Herzog, Israel's president, Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, a leader of Reform Judaism, called the beatings "self-defeating" and a "counterproductive policy."
"We plead with you to bring this madness to an end," Schindler wrote.
Recent actions by the Israeli army in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have caused hundreds of injuries and represent an expressed policy on the part of the government of Israel to try to end the wave of Arab protests that began in the occupied territories in early December.
'Betrays Zionist Dream'
"I am deeply troubled and pained in sending you this message," Schindler wrote Herzog, "but I cannot be silent. The indiscriminate beatings of Arabs, enunciated and implemented as Israel's new policy to quell the riots . . . is an offense to the Jewish spirit. It violates every principle of human decency, and it betrays the Zionist dream."
American Jewish leaders usually have been reluctant to criticize Israel publicly. And though he is generally viewed as one of the most independent and outspoken of the American Jewish community's leaders, Schindler's airing of such harsh sentiments is a departure from tradition.
Schindler, the leader of the 1.3 million-member Union of American Hebrew Congregations, composed of 810 Reform synagogues, said in an interview with The Times that he was "shocked and alarmed" by what he saw on television and read in the newspapers about the new Israeli government policy.
In his telegram to Israel's president, Schindler warned that the policy could have serious consequences both in the United States and in the Middle East.
"Far from bringing order, it will only increase the cycle of violence and intensify hatred," Schindler cabled Herzog. "It also threatens to erode the support of Israel's friends here in the United States."
" . . . Your government's latest policy serves only to shift responsibility for the neglect and abuse of the Palestinians from the Arabs to the shoulders of Israel.
"Clearly, the decision must be yours. We (in America) live in safety. You and your children live under the gun. Still, we owe you the truth. Israel's present policy as announced by the minister of defense is morally wrong and practically unavailing."
Others, familiar with sentiment in the American Jewish community, predicted that Schindler's telegram could be the first step in a campaign by the leaders of some of the other major U.S. Jewish organizations to pressure Israel to stop the beatings. Some of the pressure will take place in private because of reluctance to attack Israeli policy in public.
'Dismay and Shame'
"It represents the genuine dismay and shame of Jews in the United States who are shocked at this policy," said a source familiar with discussions among U.S. Jewish leaders. Not only would many U.S. Jewish groups be hard-pressed to defend Israel's actions in Gaza and the West Bank, he said, but there is genuine shock at what is happening.
The source said that Schindler decided to send his telegram to Herzog because Israel's president may be in the best position to exert moral leadership against the beatings.
In Israel last week, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said that beatings administered by soldiers would be used to stop protests by Palestinians. And Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has since defended the decision as not Rabin's alone, but one taken by the government as a whole.
(In Jerusalem on Sunday, Rabin told the Cabinet that members of the security forces used their batons "only when necessary to disperse demonstrations." He said the clubs "are not used for punishment and they are not used on rioters already caught.")
Reasons for Action
Schindler told The Times that he undertook his initiative for several reasons.
"The first involved the moral factor," the rabbi explained. "It is jarring to the Jewish spirit to hear about a policy of indiscriminate beatings of Arabs. The second reason was, if you will, tactical. This kind of policy is self-defeating. It will not restore order. It can only increase the cycle of violence. The third reason for taking this step was political.
"The responsibility for the Palestinians plight certainly is not primarily Israel's. They are victims of the Arab governments and of the leaders of the PLO, who consistently have chosen terrorism and military confrontation over accommodation and political settlement. These latest events must not be allowed to obscure that point. And finally, if this Israeli policy is not stopped, it is bound to erode support for Israel among its American friends."