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Community News: Mid-City

MIDCITY AREA : Arabs, Jews Unite to Discuss Issues

March 20, 1994|MATHIS CHAZANOV

Only hours after the massacre of dozens of Muslim worshipers in a mosque in Hebron, Jewish and Arab leaders in Los Angeles met to decry the violence.

Now, undaunted by the lack of communication between Israel and the Palestinian leadership, local representatives are taking their dialogue one step further with the establishment of a joint speakers bureau.

The idea was born in December at a joint Jewish-Arab dinner, but it took on urgency after the Hebron shooting.

Volunteers--Arabs and Jews--will appear as a team before audiences at churches, synagogues, mosques, schools and community groups, said Monir Deeb, a board member of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

"If there are arguments, let it be," said Deeb, a Palestinian who works with an Israeli partner in a San Fernando Valley general contracting business. "This is a dialogue that people should be able to initiate, hopefully toward peace."

Organizing groups include the Anti-Discrimination Committee and local chapters of the National Assn. of Arab Americans, the American Jewish Congress and Americans for Peace Now, a support group for the Israeli peace movement.

Not everyone supports the effort. David Lehrer, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that his Jewish-sponsored organization has been sued by Deeb's group over allegations of spying by a league operative in San Francisco. "Given the statements and actions against the ADL, one must wonder about the seriousness of their commitment to dialogue with the Jewish community," Lehrer said.

Rabbi Julian White, regional director of Americans for a Safe Israel, said he thought that joint appearances would send a misleading message about the position of American Jews. A significant number of Jews, he said, oppose the Middle East peace accord, signed in Washington last September, calling for the establishment of Palestinian self-rule for a transitional period.

At a meeting sponsored by White's group Tuesday, West Bank settlers' spokesman Elyakim Ha'etzni told a friendly crowd of about 200 at the Beth Jacob synagogue in Beverly Hills that the peace process was "a sinister plan for the destruction of Israel by itself."

Saying that 33 Israeli Jews have been killed since Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat last September, he urged American Jews to "use your influence on the American Administration, on the Israeli Embassy and the Israeli consulates. Don't let them get away with this."

Ha'etzni's call was the sort of thing that organizers of the speakers bureau hope to counteract.

"I don't think he's going to be part of our discussion group," said Gerald Bubis, the local chairman of Americans for Peace Now.

Bubis said the goal of the speakers bureau is to help people understand their differences on the extent of Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and the resolution of Jerusalem, among other issues, and to try to identify areas of agreement.

The four sponsoring organizations have scheduled a joint session in April, with hopes of completing their training and taking their act on the road by September.

Other outreach efforts have included expressions of sympathy by almost all the Jewish organizations in Los Angeles, said Dr. Maher Hothout, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California, Los Angeles' largest mosque, at 4th and Vermont streets.

"We appreciated that, although we indicated we need more than that," said Hothout. "We need to demand that the causes of the problem should be dealt with." Specifically, he said, the presence of armed Jewish settlers in the midst of the occupied territories must be addressed.

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