NEW YORK — A prominent U.S. Jewish leader said Wednesday he has received personal assurances from Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir that indiscriminate beatings of Palestinian Arabs or any kind of "excessive" force by soldiers and security units in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will not be tolerated.
"With regard to the issue of beatings in the occupied territories, I can state today that Israel does not have a policy of indiscriminate beatings," Morris B. Abram, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said at a news conference in Manhattan. "Such a policy would be wrong and inconsistent with Israel's historic policy and practice."
Abram, as chief spokesman for a major umbrella group of U.S. Jewish organizations, sought to portray solidarity after days of pointed criticism by some American Jewish leaders of Israeli policy.
Recently, a delegation of the American Jewish Congress met with Shamir and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin to express displeasure. Officials of the Synagogue Council of America also indicated their concern, and in a telegram to Israeli President Chaim Herzog, Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, leader of the 1.3-million-member Union of American Hebrew Congregations, called the beatings "self-defeating."
Shamir and Abram were contradicted Wednesday by Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League and a member of the Israeli Parliament. Kahane, in New York on a speaking tour, was quoted by Reuters news service as saying the Israeli army does have a policy of beating Arab protesters.
"Shamir is a liar," Kahane said. "Of course it's the policy."
He said he is taking no pleasure in knowing that Israelis are beating Arabs in the occupied territories.
"I think we should stop shooting them and beating them," he said. "I think the curfews should also come to an end. I want every Arab thrown out of our country."
Abram, at his news conference, said Israel's recent actions must be considered in context. "The violence is real; the weapons that are being used by the Palestinians are Molotov cocktails, rocks, crowbars and knives," Abram said. "The targets are often small, isolated groups of Israeli soldiers who are the victims of hit-and-run attacks intended to maim and kill.
"We understand that in any democratic society that to preserve democratic institutions, order is required, and order, sometimes in the face of extreme violent protests and violent actions . . . requires force."
"There is a general feeling of satisfaction that this kind of thing is not going to happen again," said one Jewish activist in New York. "When Abram spoke with Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the phone, you can be sure he did not call him praising him for his policy of beatings."