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Reaction of L.A.-Area Jews and Arabs Mixed : Peace Prize: Many feel that the Nobel award was given prematurely, in light of the continuing violence in the Mideast. PLO terrorism is also noted.

October 15, 1994|MATHIS CHAZANOV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jews and Arabs in the Los Angeles area offered mixed reactions Friday to the news that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO leader Yasser Arafat will share the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize.

Many said the award came too early in the light of continuing Mideast violence. But others hailed it as a show of support for the peace process.

Jewish leaders, including Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, found the choice of Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization hard to swallow.

They said this was especially true on a day when Israeli troops suffered casualties while storming a home where Islamic militants had held a kidnaped 19-year-old Israeli soldier. The hostage was killed, as were three kidnapers and an Israeli commando.

Hier called the prize "tragic and flawed." "There is something inherently wrong when such a distinguished award becomes a means for repentant terrorists to gain instant respectability," he said.

But Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills hailed Peres' vision, Rabin's negotiating skills and Arafat's gumption in rising above the PLO's violent record.

"All three of them took risks in moving toward peace," she said. "They all risked a great deal, and they are all facing serious threats from extremists, as we've seen just today. So my hope is that this prize supports the forces in the Middle East that want there to be peace. We all recognize that this is still a very long road."

At the Islamic Center of Southern California, spokesman Maher Hathout said the time was not right for awarding such a prize.

"It is premature because peace is not there yet," he said. And one of the worshipers, Amr Ali, said, "All three of them don't deserve it. Israel is living in peace but the Palestinians are definitely not living in peace."

While some Jewish spokesmen protested the choice of Arafat, saying he was a former terrorist, Hathout recalled that another Israeli prime minister was similarly honored despite his violent record as commander of a underground group that existed before Israel's statehood. "Those that are objecting because of Arafat should remember that Menachem Begin got the peace prize too," he said.

Joel Rembaum, president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis, observed of the new laureates: "You've got to give these guys credit, because they started a process that up to now was not as meaningful as it might have been.

"Perhaps the hope is the prize will give an impetus to completing that process."

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