District Del. Walter E. Fauntroy has embarked on an effort to pacify Washington's Jewish community about his role in a meeting last week with the Palestine Liberation Organization, an event some Jewish leaders here say "deeply disturbs" them.
"The feeling of hurt is based on a lack of understanding of his position and that of national black leaders who met with the PLO in New York, Fauntroy said yesterday. "In fact, we were not taking sides, but rather asking [the PLO and Israelis] to recognize the right of the other for self-determination and the right to a homeland."
Despite the protests of Jewish leaders here and more than 100 telephone calls to his offices objecting to his participation in the meeting with the PLO, Fauntroy said he has "no regrets" about the parley.
Fauntroy met with a delegation from the Jewish Community Council if Greater Washington Sunday night, and last night talked with another group of Jewish leaders and several of his long-time political advisers in the basement of his Northwest Washington home.
Among those attending last night's meeting were John Hechinger Sr., head of the hardware store chain and a staunch Fauntroy supporter, and Aaron Goldman, a former president of the Jewish Community Council.
As he left the meeting, Goldman said, "It's always good for old allies to get together to talk, and someday this brouhaha will be over." He declined to discuss the meeting further.
Others at the meeting included Harley J. Daniels, a Washington attorney and former Fauntroy aide, Clifton Smith, Fauntroy's campaign manager last year, and several of Fauntroy's congressional aides. His aides refused to identify anyone else at the meeting.
Rabbi Matthew H. Simon, who attended the Sunday meeting, described it as "friendly, very helpful," but said those in the group made their "wounded" feelings clear to Fauntroy.
Simon said that Fauntroy and leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference who met with the PLO's United Nations observer did not sufficiently stress that "they appreciate that the PLO is a terrorist organization. We wouldn't ask Coretta King to sit down with her husband's murderer and it is equally demeaning of the Israeli community to ask it to sit down with the PLO."
But Simon said Jewish leaders were also distressed that the national black leaders released a statement last week saying that Jews had allied themselves with blacks "when it is in their perceived interest to do so, as do we."
"Simply to say we were [allies in the civil rights movement] out of some ulterior motive is to deny biblical teaching and that we put our lives on the line without hesitation," Simon said.
Samuel H. Sislen, the Jewish Community Council's program director, said the group told Fauntroy that to recognize the PLO "is to capitulate to terrorism and encourage its growth."
He said the group "agreed to disagree" with Fauntroy about the role the PLO should play in trying to bring a definitive peace to the Mideast.
Fauntroy said that even with his fence-mending efforts with Jewish leaders here, many of whom have supported him in past political campaigns, he believes the current black-Jewish conflict over the PLO meeting and the forced resignation of U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young is a "sideshow" to the basic issue of achieving peace.
"I intend to work at this until we achieve the goal of a peaceful Mideast," he said.
Fauntroy spokesman Eldridge Spearman said that 162 people called Fauntroy's office in the last week about his role in the PLO meeting and that about two-thirds of them were opposed, some of them in an angry vein.
Some said Fauntroy should not be dealing with "murderers and terrorists," while other suggested that his venture into foreign affairs might hurt the city's efforts to win approval from 38 states for full voting representation in Congress, Spearman said.
Others said they no longer will support Fauntroy or contribute to his campaigns. A minority said Fauntroy's efforts were in the best interests of the U.S., Spearman said.
Rabbi Joshua O. Haverman of the Washington Hebrew Congregation said he had been invited to one of Fauntroy's meetings and would have gone had it not been for a previously planned religious retreat in Pennsylvania.
But he said "it might have been more prudent to have these meetings before all the flak. The organized black leadership was a bit hasty and impulsive in making their statements" about the Mideast.
Hechinger, who recently served as a public member of the U.S. delegation to the U.N., said before meeting with Fauntroy last night that the black leaders' meeting with the PLO "really doesn't bother me. If it's going to happen, it's good that moderating voices were there, like Walter Fauntry."