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L.A. Jewish Leaders Defend Christopher : Diplomacy: Comments rebut accusations that lawyer was less than fair in addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict.


WASHINGTON — Leading members of the Los Angeles Jewish community Monday denounced reports that some Jewish leaders privately urged President-elect Bill Clinton not to nominate Los Angeles lawyer Warren Christopher as secretary of state because of misgivings about his views on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

"Warren Christopher is a friend of Israel and a friend of the Jewish people, and anybody who suggests otherwise doesn't know what he's talking about," said Ed Sanders, former president of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles and former national president of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the main pro-Israel lobbying group.

In Washington, AIPAC issued an unusual public statement, saying: "There is not a scintilla of evidence in anything that we know of to suggest in any way that (Christopher) is unfriendly to Israel or partisan to the so-called Arabist point of view. If anybody in the American pro-Israel community has such evidence, they should step forward and provide it; we don't think it exists."

The comments were in response to an article in The Times last week that some leaders of national Jewish organizations had sought to dissuade Clinton from naming Christopher because he served as deputy secretary of state under President Jimmy Carter, who angered many Jews by pressing Israel for concessions to achieve a Middle East peace agreement.

Jewish leaders in Los Angeles reacted angrily to that.

"It's guilt by association, and it has no basis in fact," City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said. "Jimmy Carter has a problem in the community because he was perceived to be hostile, but that was Jimmy Carter, not Warren Christopher. . . . The only problem (Christopher) has with some people is that they just don't know him."

"This is a slight to a decent man, but it's also a bad thing because it could mislead the Jewish community," said Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom Temple in Encino. "There's a passage in the Rabbinic tradition: 'Who is strong? He who makes of his adversary a friend.' This sounds like some people have a gift for turning friends into adversaries."

"I've known Warren for over 30 years and I have never found anyone who has any real criticism of his impartiality, his fairness and his ability . . . to make a good judgment," said Carmen Warshaw, a member of the board of the Jewish Federation Council and a former member of the Democratic National Committee. "I'm appalled by the suggestion that Warren Christopher would not be acceptable to the Jewish community."

"Warren Christopher is one of the finest human beings I have ever met," said U.S. District Judge Harry Pregerson. "If anybody out there is saying he wouldn't be fair about the Middle East or any other issue, they don't know what they're talking about."

Clinton named Christopher last week as director and chief operating officer of his transition team. Christopher said he told Clinton that, as a result, he "assumed" he would not take on any "major responsibility" in the new Administration.

On Saturday, however, he seemed to leave open the possibility that he might take a Cabinet post if Clinton insisted. "That question hasn't come up and it's a long ways down the road," he said. "I think the best thing for people to know is that I'm out of the process."

Times staff writer Kenneth Reich in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

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