D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy said yesterday that he saw no difference between the acts of violence being committed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
"For me, killing is killing. Bombs dropping out of the sky are as terrifying as bombs in a shopping center. Whatever you call it, I want the killing to stop." Fauntroy said at a Capitol Hill press conference called to defend his previous meetings with the PLO.
Flauntroy's remarks made it clear that he did not want to be perceived as retreating in the face of Jewish pressure or criticism from other blacks. Nor did he want to be viewed as a PLO sympathizer, as some of his critics have charged.
Fauntroy, chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, made the statement only hours after Vernon Jordan, president of the National Urban League, became the third nationally known black in less than a week to denounce the SCLC's efforts to establish an Isralei-PLO dialogue.
Speaking yesterday in Kansas City, Kan., Jordan criticized "ill-considered flirtations with terrorist groups devoted to the extermination of Israel" if they endangered black-Jewish relations. Fauntroy's meetings with PLO representatives and his invitation, now withdrawn, to PLO leader Yasser Arafat to speak in the United States have done precisely that.
Yesterday, Fauntroy read a long and cautiously worded defense of his Middle East peace mission. He had mostly muted criticism for Jordan, NAACP Executive Director Benjamin L. Hooks, Bayard Rustin and others who have been critical of his meetings with the PLO.
"Obviously, we have some disagreement with Mr. Jordan and Mr. Rustin if their position is that our appeal for peace through nonviolence should not be communicated directly to PLO leaders by ourselves, leaders of conscience around the world or by the United States government," Fauntroy said.
We think it is ludicrous to suggest that an appeal to the PLO to end its violence against Israeli men, women and children, and to recognize the right to Israel to exist is tantamount to supporting terrorism and the destruction of Israel," he said.
The low-keyed tone of Fauntroy's press conference reflected his reluctance to be drawn into the intensifying clash within the national black leadership over th controversy triggered by Andrew Young's resignation as U.N. Ambassador to the United Nations in late August.
Young stepped down after the disclosure that he had held an unauthorized meeting with Zehdi Labib Terzi, the PLO observer at the United Nations. The U.S. government has an official no-contact policy with the PLO, largely in deference to Israel's sensitivity about the group, because it does not recognize Isarel's right to exist.
In the wake of Young's departure, other blacks, including Fauntroy and the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson of Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity), have called that U.S. stance unrealistic. They contend that the hands-off policy toward the PLO is exacerbating economic problems in this country and that blacks are feeling the brunt of those problems.
Last month, in an effort to establish what they termed more "even-handed" diplomacy and discussion of Middle East issues, first Fauntroy and later Jackson went to the Middle East. Each met with Arafat.
Both trips have created tensions between blacks and Jews, groups that were allies in the civil rights movement. In Washington, Fauntroy's efforts have aroused fears in some people of the worst black-Jewish rift since the aftermath of the 1968 riots.
Jewish uneasiness over Fauntroy's efforts climaxed when it was announced that Fauntroy had invited Arafat to speak in the United States at an educational forum sponsored by the SCLC.
But last week Fauntroy withdrew the invitation because, he said, the PLO had rejected an SCLC proposal to end violence in the Middle East. Fauntroy said that SCLC still intended to hold the forums and he still planned to be involved in Middle East peace efforts.
Fauntroy's withdrawal came at the same time that Benjamin Hooks of the NAACP was beginning to escalatc the black opposition to Jackson and
Fauntroy's activities. In his statement yesterday, Fauntroy made several efforts to underscore his "even-handed" approach to Israel and the PLO.
While he criticized the PLO for not agreeing to the peace accord, Fauntroy also criticized the Israeli government for its refusal to meet the same 10-member SCLC delegation that met with Arafat.
Fauntroy said he had withdrawn -- actually he used the term "deferred" -- the invitation to Arafat because he did not want to "reward" the PLO's unwillingness to accept the SCLC peace plan. Then, he quickly voiced his strong support for a 10-percent reduction in the U.S. military aid appropriation for Israel. That, he said, should "send a message to Israel" that military weapons provided by the United States should not be used "on non-military targets."
Sources close to Fauntroy portray his position as complex and made more difficult by the fact that in many ways his efforts are akin to those of Jackson, who is considered an ambitious, media-conscious and somethimes unjudicious loner by many other black leaders.
Many Fauntroy supporters see the recent flurry of attacks on the PLO by other black leaders as being directed primarily at Jackson, whose remarks immediately after Young's announced departure were considered anti-Semitic by some Jewish leaders.
On the one hand, sources said, Fauntroy is reluctant to criticize Jackson because both are under similar attack. On the other hand, he does not want to be lumped in with Jackson, who is considered more vulnerable to criticism. And, they said, Fauntroy, who some contend is gaining black political support through his stance, does not want to be seen as caving in to Jewish pressure on what he has termed a personal "mission of reconciliation."
Yesterday, Fauntroy refused to distinguish between his actions and those of Jackson. He said he did not see the need for a black summit meeting to resolve differences and that he considered the "debate" over the Middle East "healthy."