“Isaiah & Solender”

“Information published today about a decision to present Yasser Arafat with the United Jewish Communities Isaiah Award misrepresents the facts and is misleading. There was never any intent to issue the award to Chairman Arafat. In addition, Stephen D. Solender, president of United Jewish Communities, stated that he is very concerned that inaccurate information has circulated. He plans to review internal procedures so thatthis type of situation does not occur in the future.”

* * *

That is the complete text of a press release issued by the United Jewish Communities on October 15. On October 18, the Jerusalem bureau chief of the Israel Resource News Agency, David Bedein, wired a letter to the Jewish leadership in America. In it he asserted that his news agency had “received, reviewed and verified the authenticity of correspondence sent out by the UJC office to the Jewish Agency, in which they affirm that they had purchased the award and were intent on granting it to Arafat.” In other words, Mr. Bedein is confirming the essence of the report two weeks ago in The Jewish Advocate newspaper of Boston, which added additional details in its most recent issue. Mr. Bedein goes on to say that Israel Resource News Agency interviewed officials of the Palestinian Authority, “who affirm that they have been informed by the UJC that it expects to grant the award to Arafat at a future date.”

And so the issue becomes not so much the question of whether Mr. Arafat merits an award in the name of Isaiah from America’s largest Jewish charity. Our own soundings suggest that, even among doves, the idea is dumb, if not offensive. Now the issue has become the candor — to put it kindly — of our leadership. Is the United Jewish Communities telling the full truth?

Somehow we get the feeling that The Jewish Advocate and the Israel Resource News Agency are more accurate here than our own leadership. Is there more to this than Mr. Solender suggests in his terse press release?

An October 14 memo to federation presidents and executives from Mr. Solender concedes only that Mr. Arafat’s name “was one of several considered early on.” Why haven’t we heard from Charles Bronfman and the other members of the lay leadership of the UJC? One lay leader, Joel Tauber, has been quoted as saying that he had no knowledge of remarks drafted for him to recite in presenting Mr. Arafat the award. What did the lay leaders know and when? Most broadly, how are we going to get any kind of reform in our institutions here at home if we can’t get a straight answer out of our leadership?