A group of American Jewish leaders plans to meet with African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela in Geneva Sunday to ask him to clarify his views on Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization prior to Mandela's U.S. visit later this month, members of the group said yesterday.

"We are hoping to clear the air and defuse the situation so that Mandela's visit . . . is what it ought to be: a great welcome for a liberation hero without a lot of marginal controversy," said Al Vorspan, senior vice president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

Organizers of the Mandela trip are concerned that tensions between the ANC leader and the American Jewish community could lead to protests during the visit.

"We are concerned about intergroup relations in the city and that nothing be done to cause any decline in the level of race relations in the city," said Herbert Block, an aide to Mayor David Dinkins of New York, where Mandela will begin his U.S. tour June 20 and where racial tensions have been inflamed recently.

American Jewish leaders have questioned the bearhug Mandela gave PLO leader Yasser Arafat when the two met in Lusaka, Zambia, earlier this year, as well as statements Mandela has made comparing the struggle of the Palestinians with the struggle against apartheid, South Africa's system of racial discrimination.

The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith wrote Mandela that it was "disturbed and pained" by his comments.

The group of U.S. Jewish leaders, which also includes representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council and the American Jewish Committee, wants Mandela to clearly endorse Israel's right to exist within secure borders, Vorspan said. Some also hope Mandela will distance himself from the PLO and state that Zionism does not equal racism.

Voorspan said he did not expect Mandela to take back his criticism of Israel. "Israel is not immune from criticism. He's concerned with Israel's relations with South Africa and its treatment of Palestinians in the {occupied} territories, and those are views many of us share," he said.

Last Sunday, Mandela invited South African Jewish leaders to meet with him at a Johannesburg hospital, where he had undergone minor surgery. According to Israel Maisels, a Jewish lawyer who defended ANC leaders in their treason trial in the late 1950s, and who attended the meeting, Mandela assured them that he was not a racist and that his comments should be placed in the context of political and financial support the PLO had given to the ANC over the years.

Maisels said in a telephone interview from Johannesburg that the South African Jewish group planned to issue a joint statement last night saying that Mandela "assured those present that neither he nor the ANC had sought to cause offense to the Jewish people and asserts his own and the ANC's unswerving opposition to antisemitism and their appreciation of the efforts of many Jewish people in the common effort to bring justice and peace to all the peoples of South Africa."

In New York, reactions to the Mandela trip have been mixed. Block and others involved in preparing for the visit said some militant Jewish groups are planning protests. But other Jewish leaders plan celebration Sabbath services and will participate in other scheduled ceremonies, he said. "The Jewish community is never monolithic about anything." But, he added, "mainstream {Jewish} groups are not sure how to proceed. A lot is contingent on what happens on Sunday morning."

Maisels said Mandela recognized Israel's right to exist, but no mention of that was made in the joint statement. "I don't need the acknowledgment of Mr. Mandela or anybody else of the right of Israel to exist," Maisels said. He said it would be "demeaning" to seek such an endorsement.

Though South African Jews have played prominent roles in the opposition to apartheid, much of the South African Jewish community has become more conservative in recent years.