The Carter administration and American Jewish leaders have begun a series of wary consultations in the wake of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's headline-grabbing U.S. visit.
The Jewish leaders dismiss the Sadat visit as an attempt to circumvent negotiations with Israel by bringing pressure on Israeli Premier Menachem Begin's government, and say there is no major crack in their united support for Begin.
"We reject president Sadat's statement that he has given Israel everything and received nothing," said Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Jewish leaders dined with President Carter at the White House Wednesday night. At a White House luncheon yesterday, 30 national officers of the United Jewish Appeal were briefed by Vice President Mondale, national security affairs adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and other administration officals.
Carter set contacts with the Jewish community in motion last October, after Jewish leaders exploded in anger over the joint U.S.-Soviet statement urging Israel to grant a negotiating role at the Middle East peace talks to Palestinian representatives and calling on Israel to recognize "the legitimate right of Palestinian people."
Sources on both sides of the dialogue said that although relations are far better than they were in October, underlying tensions persist.
"Whether this is all leading up to something. I don't know," Rep. Sidney yates (D-Ill.), staunch supporter of Israel, said yesterday. It was an example of outsiders' uncertainty about the direction of the Carter administration. Yates was one of four Jewish members of Congress briefed by Carter on his talks with Sadat.
A major worry for Israel and the American Jewish community is the proposed sale of jet military planes to Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Mail opposing the sales is beginning to arrive in congressional offices in a flow large enough to indicate an organized campaign.
"Military aid for Egypt is troubling now before the process of negotiations is completed," Schindler said.
Asked whether he thought the administration was tilting too much toward Egypt, Schindler praised President Carter and added, "Some say there are elements in the State Department or the White House that seem to be orchestrating anti-Israeli feelings."
Schindler acknowledged that perhaps such an impression was normal while a foreign head of government was in Washington. "When Begin is here, the Arabs are protesting that the United States is too pro-Israel," he said.
Although leaders of the Jewish community were, if anything, hardened in their support for Begin by Sadat's visit, at least one strong supporter of Israel, Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (D-Conn.), was known to think that Begin's position was too intransigent. Ribicoff was another of the members of Congress briefed by Carter.
In interviews yesterday, however, 10 Jewish community leaders all agreed with Alexander Chernin of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Committee, who said: "We're concerned over Sadat's intransigence. Sadat is saying 'Nothing is negotiable' and Begin is saying 'everything is negotiable.'"
Only on the question of Israeli settlements in captured territory did the Jewish leaders distance themselves at all from Israeli government policy. And most agreed with Schindler that settlements can be dealt with in Israeli-Egyptian negotiations face to face.
These "official" leaders of Jewish organizations declined to meet with Sadat during his visit. Rabbi Israel Miller, past president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said: "One of the reasons for not meeting Sadat was because we have heard his story and we are not the people to do any negotiating."
Miller said that the Jewish groups that met Sadat last Monday "were representing themselves. They aren't representative of the Jewish community."
Philip Klutznick, president of the World Jewish Congress and a spokesman for the group that saw Sadat, said of the Egyptian president's visit, "Whether we like what happened or didn't, it may reopen the possibility of negotiations."
A number of Jewish leaders strongly resented Sadat's open letter printed in the Miami Herald Jan. 29. Arnold Foster, general counsel of the Anti-Defamation League, said, "I don't think Sadat succeeded in dividing the American Jewish community." The letter sought to persuade American Jews to pressure Israel into concessions.
Schindler, however, said he doesn't believe that Sadat had divisiveness in mind.
The Jewish leaders all remarked with admiration and some exasperation on Sadat's talent for projecting himself through the American media.
"The American people are coming to feel that Sadat must not turn to the United States at every bump in the road," Foster said.