Members of the major coordinating organization of the Israeli lobby, in an atmosphere of frustration and bitterness, booed and heckled White House counsel Robert J. Lipshutz Monday night when he defended the Carter administration's Middle East policies.
The scene was the annual policy conference dinner of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in the ballroom of the Washington Hilton. The emotion level, already high because of the controversy over President Carter's proposed Middle East warplanes sales, had been raised to a new level of intensity by a free-swinging address by Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.).
"Two days of pent-up feelings, after pablum and more pablum briefings" at the State Department and else where came to the surface in the passionate outburst, according to AIPAC Vice President Morton Silberman of Miami. Jerry Strober, an AIPAC member from New York City, explained the incident as "like the lid coming off the pressure cooker."
Members of the organization, Jewish civic leaders from throughout the United States, said feelings of despair and even betrayal about Carter were major contributing factors to ther frustration. Carter won nearly 70 percent of the Jewish vote in 1976, according to published estimates, but has been involved in repeated confrontations with Israel over Middle East diplomacy.
The potential defeat of Israel and its backers in legislative attempts to block the planned warplane sales to Saudi Arabia and Egypt also gave rise to anger. Word circulated among Israeli officials as well as AIPAC members before Monday night's dinner that the sales are likely to go through - and Israel forces thus likely to surfer their most serious defeat in Congress in years.
Weicker cited both the warplane sales and Middle East diplomatic issues in charging that the administration is pursuing "a policy of confrontation" with Israel and of 'appeasement" with Arab nations. He charged that Zbigniew Brzezinski, presidential adviser on national security affairs, is piloting Mideast policy in the belief that the United States must "disengage from hits historic alliance with Israel." Amid loud applause, he called for Brzezinski to resign.
"We know from history that time and again, when national leaders ran into difficulties, they found it convenient to blame their problems on the Jews," said Weicker. He charged that "the signals which Brzezinski is sending today" are indistinguishable from "those historical proclivities."
Lipshutz, who at the White House had seen an advance text of the Weicker speech, was sitting on the dias as an honored guest. he asked for and received permission to respond, but ashe began there were loud boos and shouts of "sit down" and "shut up."
"I want to express my deep sorrow at some statements made by Senator Weicker. Criticism of the policy of an administration is legitimate. Some of what we have heard goes far beyond the bounds of crificism," Lipshutz said as the catcalls continued."It impuned the character and integrity of the president of the United States."
Declaring that he was speaking not only as a member of the administration but also as a Jew, Lipshutz said Weicker was "dead wrong" in intimating that the administration could conceive of abandoning Israel or blaming its problems on Jews.
"It is unworthy of him and of this audience . . . It is an attempt to play upon the deep emotions involved and it is a disservice . . .," he said before being drowned out by the catcalls.
Lipshutz declared with emotion that "this administration stands by Israel." He received a scattering of polite applause when he sat down.
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), who also spoke at the AIPAC dinner, rose to defend Brzezinski "as a personal friend and fellow academic" and said that Brzezinski's integrity is "as perfect as that of the president or secretary of state."
At the White House early yesterday, National Security Council spokesman Jerrold Schecter called Weicker's charges "false, inflammatory statements." He said that Brzezinski "has repeatedly made it clear that the U.S. commitment to Israel is unshakable because it is derived from the strongest moral imperatives."
Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz, who spoke at an AIPAC luncheon yesterday, leveled strong but indirect criticisms at the administration.