Members and leaders of metropolitan Washington's Jewish community, many of whom previously had muted their criticism of D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy's self-proclaimed Middle East peace mission, voiced anger and a sense of betrayal yesterday over Fauntroy's latest actions.
From the lecterns of numerous synagogues at which Rosh Hashanah services were held over the weekend and in strongly worded statements yesterday, Jewish religious and civic leaders of various political persuasions denounced Fauntroy's efforts.
They said they and other Jews were particularly angered by Fauntroy's invitation to Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, to speak in the United States. More than a dozen orthodox, conservative and reform rabbis and Jewish civic leaders were interviewed. Not one supported Fauntroy's actions.
Phillis Frank, president of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, termed the invitation "an outrageous affront to human decency" and said Fauntroy's meeting with Arafat last week in Beirut "added insult to [the] injury" that followed Fauntroy's meeting with a Palestine Liberation Organization representative at the United Nations last month. The council represents 200 synagogues and Jewish organizations in the area.
"We wonder if SCLC is not simply allowing itself to be used by Arafat," Frank said, referring to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of which Fauntroy is chairman.
"Jewish-black relations have undergone a 180-degree turn in the past several weeks," said Rabbi Tzvi Porath of Ohr Kodesh, a conservative congregation in Chevy Chase. Porath said he spoke to his congregation last weekend about what he said was an apparent shift in U.S. policy, softening its stance toward the PLO.
Hyman Bookbinder, Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee said "There is a great deal of disappointment with (Fauntroy). He is involved in a veritable minefield, and I am very sorry about that because it will reflect upon his own good judgment."
Fauntroy, who resumed a busy schedule of appearances yesterday after collapsing from exhaustion Sunday, said he planned to continue his efforts and denied that they have been one-sided.
"If the singularly most important result of our trip were to be focused upon there would be reason for most of our Jewish brothers and sisters to be hopeful that our goal of obtaining a moratorium on violence by the PLO is very near realization." Fauntroy said in a telephone interview.
"I can certainly understand the anxiety and fear among many Jewish Americans about the contacts that have been made with the PLO," he said. "But when the contacts bear the fruit of a moratorium on violence and a recognition by PLO of the right of Israel to exist within defined and secure borders, they will find reason to forgive me for the added anxiety I have caused them."
Fauntroy's Middle East initiative began after the resignation last month of Andrew Young, a close friend of Fauntroy, as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.Young stepped down after the disclosure that he met with Zehdi Labib Terzi, the PLO observer at the U.N. at a time when U.S. policy was to have no contact with the PLO.
Young's resignation sparked a nationwide dispute between some Jews and blacks.
Some black leaders accused Jews of pressing for Young's departure. In Washington, members of both groups feared the first serious split in black-Jewish relations since the aftermath of the 1968 riots, during which many businesses owned by Jews were burned and looted.
Yesterday, Bookbinder cautioned that Jews, although they were angered, were not trying to threaten Fauntroy.
"Fauntroy's making some very serious mistakes right now and we have to deal honestly and frankly with him. The lines of communication must be open. I hope they do not close them down," Bookbinder said.
Former mayor Walter E. Washington, who many credited with playing a key role in healing the previous black-Jewish split, said yesterday he has received several calls from blacks and Jews asking if he would be willing to take part in conciliatory meetings.
"I've talked to a few people and they are just concerned that the situation doesn't get exacerbated," Washington said. "They don't want anything to happen to what is a fairly good situation."
Washington said he would try to meet within the week if possible, but he declined to comment on the merits of Fauntroy's actions. "I haven't studied it yet," he said.
Some political observers in the city labeled Fauntroy's efforts a strongly personal campaign that could result in increased black political support and national recognition for Fauntroy and the SCLC, which has become an almost forgotten civil rights organization in the past several years.
Fauntroy said yesterday that although such benefits might well result from the effort, they were not his intent.
"There were absolutely no political consideration in my decision to become active in this issue," he said. "What pains me most is the misunderstanding of my motives and the inability of many people to grasp the obvious wisdom of the course of action that we recommend."
The Rev. David H. Eaton, a close friend of Fauntroy and senior minister of the All Souls Unitarian Church, said, "In my humble opinion, he is sincere and doing it because he feels he has to.
"If the Jews are upset, it's because he is black," Eaton said."If that was anybody else trying to bring Palestinians and Israelis together to lay down their arms and bring peace to the Middle East, they would be happy about it . . . But some people feel that black folks are only supposed to deal with civil rights."
Jewish leaders in Washington and its close-in suburbs, representing a broad spectrum or religious and political thought among Jews, were united yesterday in denouncing the SCL's invitiation to Arafat. Jews in the city were especially upset because Fauntroy is their elected delegate in Congress, and they felt he had betrayed his Jewish constituents.
"We met with Fauntroy after his meeting with Terzi to express our concerns and he said then he was going to insist to get an answer from the PLO that they recognize Israel's right to exist and stop the fighting," Frank said.
Fauntroy said yesterday that he held two meetings with Washington area Jewish leaders last month after his session in New York with Terzi. At those Washington meetings, Fauntroy said, he promised Jewish representatives he would have no further contact with the PLO unless he believed they were seriously considering the SCLC proposal for a moratorium on violence.
Fauntroy disclosed yesterday that he and SCLC President Joseph E. Lowery had met again with Terzi Sept. 12 in the Capitol Hill office of Rep. Paul Findley (R-Ill.). Fauntroy said Terzi "gave us reason to believe that with a visit [to Lebanon] and a discussion with [Arafat and] members of his council, they may well take this indispensable step toward peace in the Middle East." It was on that basis that he went to Lebanon, Fauntroy said.
"He's still waiting for the answer, and we're still waiting for an answer," said Frank, whose organization represents conservative, moderate and liberal Jewish organizations in the city.
In sermons to their congregations last weekend during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, some reform, conservative and orthodox rabbis spoke of what they termed the dangers of SCLC's actions.
"On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Saturday, I have a sermon on black-Jewish relations and I said I felt that the SCLC was betraying the moral principals of the civil rights movement, which is nonviolent," said Rabbi Betram Leff of Beth Sholom Congregation, an orthodox congregation, an orthodox congregation on Eastern Avenue NW.
"I really feel that we are dealing with a moral issue, and it's beyond my understanding how black leadership could form an alliance with the PLO, whose very credo is violence and terrorism and the destruction of human life," Leff said.
Rabbi Ian Wolk of Temple Shalom, a reform congregation in Chevy Chase, said he has hear shcok, surprise and disappointment among members of his congregation.
"My congregation feels hurt, and these are people who through the years have supported the black cause," Wolk said. "Many Jews are saying, 'now what do I do?' The very organizations that we helped to build are turning against us."
The traditions of the High Holy Days delayed much of the Jewish response. But one group of conservative rabbis discussed the situation yesterday. They agreed that "the current involvement of some black leaders in the complex issues of Middle Eastern affairs is uncalled for and will adversely affect the implementation of the Camp David agreements," said Rabbi Marvin Bash, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, Washington Region, who attended the meeting.
Rabbi Joshua O. Haberman of Washington Hebrew Congregation, 3935 Macomb St. NW, said, "To turn this into a black-Jewish problem is a disservice to our city and our country . . . We've got hundreds of congressmen, I don't think we want the foreign policy to be made by all of the congressmen in the Congress."
The SCLC proposal calls for the recognition by both sides of each other's right to exist and end to the sporadic but deadly violence between Israel and the PLO, which is not part to any of the Egypt-Israeli peace accords.
Fauntroy and SCLC leaders wanted to meet with Israeli Premier Menachen Begin on their trip to the Middle East, but were denied the opportunity.
They met with Arafat and Lebanese government and religious leaders and toured some refugee camps. The SCLC leaders expect Arafat to respond to their peace plan this week and to respond later to an invitation that he speak to an SCLC-sponsored "educational forum" on the Middle East to be held at the United Nations.