President Carter's Middle East diplomacy has bewildered and angered many leaders of the American Jewish community, some of whom predict an early confrontation with the administration.
Carter's efforts to arrange some kind of role for the Palestine Liberation Organization in the Middle East peace talks is the issue that most upsets American Jewish leaders.
Many of them say will never agree to deal with the PLO, and that American Jews will "support that decision 1,000 per cent," in the words of New York attorney Rita Hauser.
The American Jewish community is "very upset, very unhappy," according to Rabbi Alecander M. Schildler, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.
"One might almost go so far as to say it is seething to erupt right now," Schindler said in one of a number of interviews held last week before yesterday's negotiating role at Middle East peace talks to representatives of the Palestinian people and calling on Israel to recognize "the legitimate rights of Palestinian people."
Burton Joseph of Minneapolis, national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, and a friend of Vice President Mandale, said in another interview: "It appears to a number of us in leadership positions . . . that there has been a change in attitude and perhaps a change in policy (by the Carter administration) towards Israel . . . This troubles us deeply . . . because we're not certain how to handle it . . ."
Mark Siegel, the White House aide designated as the President's liaison with Jewish organizations, said that Jewish reservations about the President's diplomatic moves were substantial. "Politically we're in a potentially serious situation," Siegel said. "There is a serious genuine misperception of our policy in the American Jewish community."
Others - including members of the administration, speaking privately - dispute the idea that the problem is a misperception. They contend that Carter's policy is leading toward a confrontation between the United States and Israel (and a large portion of American Jewry) on the PLO issue.
White House concern about Jewish opinion apparently is substantial. A weekly bulletin called "Jewish News Clipping Summary" is being prepared for senior staff members, by Siegel, an assistant in the office of Hamilton Jordan, Carter's principal aide. Jewish leaders like Rabbi Schindler report that Jordan, Siegel and others on the staff answer their phone calls quickly and quickly and generally appar responsive to their requests.
Seigel said in an interview that President Carter is well aware of the feelings of American Jews about the Middle East situation.
"He also said that "anyone who is familiar with Jimmy Carter's feelings on this issue must be certain of his commitment to the security of Israel."
Several well-placed and well-known friends of Israel in New York and Washington said they had reason to believe that the Carter administration will be polite to them, but has no intention of abandoning its current approach to Mideast diplomacy.
These sources said word had been passed to them that the White House is inclined - or claims to be inclined - to fight the "Jewish lobby" publicly, if necessary.
This type of public confrontation is the one thing Jewish leaders repeatedly say they hope to avert. But they also claim that in a showdown - presumin the issue is whether or not Israel should recognize that PLO - Israel's traditional friends in Congress would not support President Carter, but would stand by Israel.
Several members of Congress and key aides on Capitol Hill agreed with that assessment in interviews last week.
The Carter administration has not demanded that Israel recognize the PLO, but Carter has said the Palestinians must be represented at any future meeting of the Geneva peace conference, and he has described the PLO as representative of a "substatial part" of the 3 million Palestinians.
The Israeli government has agreed to allow some Palestinians - including some who might be assiciated with the PLO - to participate in a pan-Arab delegation at an opening, plenary session of the Geneva conference, but has rejected any more direct PLO participation.
Asking the Israelis to negotiate with the PLO, Rabbi Schindler said, is "like asking the civil rights leaders to negotiate with the Ku Klux Klan."
The long historu of PLO terroism against Israel and its citizens, and the PLO's bitter opposition to the existence of a Jewish state in what was formerly the territory of Palestine, raise on ominous spectre for many Israeli and American Jews.
One congressional aide sympathetic to Israel said the PLO evoked grave fears of "another holocaust," a reference to the 6 million Jews exterminated by Hilter's Nazi Germany.
The Washington lobbyist for one Jewish organization said there was a serious political problem in negotiating with the PLO. "That kind of recognition by the U.S. and Israel will be interpreted by everyone as acceptance of the idea of a PLO-run state" in the Middle East, he said. And he added - as have Israeli officials - that this would be completely unacceptable to Israel.
Even Jews and Jewish groups who have taken a dovish position in a possible Middle East settlement - with rare exceptions - do not endorse direct negotiations with the PLO.
Several Jewish leaders accused the Carter administration of elevating the PLO to a new status by repeatedly talkiing about it, creating a new problem in the Middle East mix. "They picked the wrong issue," one said. "This is the only issue that all Jews agree on."
Members of Congress said there has not yet been "an outpouring" of Jewish sentiment on this PLO issue, in the words of Rep. Sidney R. Yates (D-III.) Yates said it was still too soon to see exactly where Carter is going, and Jewish groups have not yet decided to fight his policy directly.
Yates and seveal of his colleagues said it would be premature to judge Carter's policy. He said he had been assured in July by Carter's aide for national security affairs, Zbigniew Brzezinski, that the administration would never put "a pistol to Israel's head," which Yates hoped was true.
Another congressman with close ties to Israel, Rep. Jonathan B. Bingham (D-N.Y.). Thursday sent a detailed letter to President Carter complaining of the anti-Israel "tilt" that Bingham perceives in U.S. policy toward the Middle East.
Bingham said he wrote the letter in part to be bale to tell his predominantly Jewish constituents that he had tried to do something to affect administration policy.
Many of the Jewish leaders intrviewed noted that on numerous occasions President Carter has said exactly the things they hoped to hear about Israel's right to exist, the desirable nature of a future Middle East peace and many other Mideast issues.
Several referred to the July 7 White House meeting between Carter and 50 prominent Jews. Carter gave that group the assurances it was looking for regarding Israel, they said.
But "the assurances with which we walked out of the meeting have turned to new doubts and new fears." Rabbi Schindler said last week. Others echoed his view.
Many of these Jews charged that Carter's policy was too unpredictable, too loosely managed. Several said it was an error to speak out so often in public, because Carter's different formulations on important issues confused everyone involved.
"These guys are making fools of themselves," charged one prominent friend of Israel in Washington, who asked not to be identified. "There is no contigency planning if they don't get to Geneva."
Another noted that in his foreign policy debate with President Ford in last year's campaign, Carter criticized Ford for trying "to make Israel the scapegoat for the problems in the Middle East," which, Carter said, "put a cloud on the total commitment that our people feel toward the Israelis."
This source said Carter appears to be doing exactly the same thing now with his public diplomacy regarding the PLO.
Maby blame Brzezinski for designing the new tactics, which they deplore. Several Jews said they thought Brzezinski had helped draft a series of statemwntss by the State Department and White House that have been critical of Israel.
Several of the Jewish leaders also complained that Carter and Brzezinski seemed determined to hold a Geneva conference in 1977 at any cost - even an open split between the American Jewish community and the administration.
Many Jewish sources complained bitterly that the Carter administration's public criticisms of Israel had not been matched by any criticisms of the Arab countries.
Several Jewish leaders acknowledged that they did not think any substantial progress toward a peace settlement is possible now, and said Carter was unrealistic if he believed otherwise.
Rep. Bingham said: "I don't expect to see a Geneva conference. I don't expect to see a peaceful settlement" in the foreseeable future.
Four months ago, when the Likud bloc led by Menaham Begin won Israel's parliamentary elections, many Jewish leaders in the United States expressed fears that Begin's right-wing, nationalistic policies might make Israel appear the intransigent party to world and American public opinion, an might provoke a split within American Jewry, which has aways stood virtually united behind Israeli government policy.
Contacted again last week, many of the same Jewish leaders reported that Begin has become a popular figure among American Jews (as he reportedly has in Israel), and now enjoys broad support.
One prominent Jew who has contributed heavily to Demoncratic politicans said concern cbout Begin had been supplanted by concern about the President of the United States.
"They're more troubled by Carter's shooting from the hip than by Begin," this man said of American Jews.