Today's age-old challenges for Jews. Scholar Nathan Perlmutter on quelling terrorism and anti-Semitism
``Swift vigorous punishment'' will send a clear signal to terrorists and their host nations that ``we will not accept more killings.'' So says Nathan Perlmutter, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B'nai B'rith and one of the nation's leading Jewish scholars and spokesmen.
Mr. Perlmutter admits that the Israeli bombing of Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in Tunis was an ``imperfect response'' to the PLO killing of three Israeli tourists in Cyprus. But he justifies it as a proper one.
``If you wait to find the individuals [who committed the crime], you just give a green light to terrorists,'' the ADL official holds.
Perlmutter warns that if last week's Italian cruise ship hijackers are not quickly tried and punished, ``it will just be an invitation to other terrorists to do likewise.'' He would like to see them tried by the Italians or extradited to the US for trial. The hijackers surrendered to Egyptians last week, but their aircraft was forced by US Navy planes to land in Italy, where they were arrested and charged by the Italians with murder and kidnapping.
In a broad-based interview here, Perlmutter talked about anti-Semitism in America, and assessed the importance of separation of church and state to the Jewish community. He evaluated the effects of President Reagan's highly controversial visit to a cemetery in Bitburg, West Germany, where Nazi stormtroopers are buried, and discussed his stance on affirmative action and racial quotas to bolster job opportunities for blacks, women, and other minorities.
The ADL leader is a lawyer, lecturer, and author of many works on racial and religious matters. A much-quoted commentator on Jewish relations, he formerly served as vice-president of Brandeis University and as a national officer of the American Jewish Committee.
Here are some of the things Mr. Perlmutter had to say.
On anti-Semitism in America. ``Anti-Semitism was, at one time, rampant. Now it is gauche,'' Perlmutter says. He points out that employment, housing, and school restrictions based on this type of religious or ethnic bias are seldom heard of today. But he is concerned about so-called ``hate'' groups that vent their venom on Jews and other minorities.
During the interview, the ADL leader also chided blacks and others who do not openly condemn the anti-Semitic stances of black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan for allowing racism and bigotry to flourish. He calls Mr. Farrakhan ``a clansman [Ku Klux Klansman] in black face'' and suggests that his appeal to ``black pride'' is not truly sincere.
An ADL study this year reported that anti-Semitic vandalism and assaults in the US were up 6.7 percent in 1984 after a steady decline in previous years. Included were arson, bombings, and desecrations of cemeteries and places of worship.
On church and state separation. Although he does not see specific anti-Semitic implications in the actions of those who are pushing for school prayer and public aid to parochial schools, Perlmutter stresses that ``the blending of church and state is potentially mischievous for all persons.''
He warns that any intertwining of religion with government makes religion vulnerable to political powers. And he says that those who proclaim the US is a ``Christian nation'' are attempting to link the nation to an ``official'' religion. ``The First Amendment was not drawn up by Jews. It was written for everyone,'' Perlmutter points out.
On Bitburg. Perlmutter repeats today what he said when Reagan visited West Germany last Spring. According to him, it was ``insensitive'' on the chief executive's part and inconsistent with what he believes is the President's ``great sensitivity to the living and the future.''
But he doesn't think this appearance at the gravesite of Nazi war criminals will have lasting fallout.
``What it did was to remind Jews how their own anguished memories cannot be fully shared, even by good friends,'' Perlmutter explains.
Of the Holocaust, the intentional extermination of millions of Jews by the Nazis during World War II, the ADL leader says Jews should not be apologetic for continually reminding the world about it. ``We should keep it alive. We must remind people of the brutality . . . and forestall it from happening again to Jews, or any other vulnerable people.''
``In some ways, it is easier to understand the death of a Leon Klinghoffer on the Achille Lauro [the Italian cruise ship hijacked in the Eastern Mediterranean last week]. This was multiplied many times over by the Holocaust. And we are still mourning.''
On affirmative action. Perlmutter is a strong supporter of goals -- but not ``quotas'' -- to achieve racial balance in hiring practices.
He says he backs the Reagan administration in its attempts to provide ``equality of opportunity'' for all workers. The ADL head speaks of quotas as ``negative action.'' ``It was bad when Jews and blacks were victims. And it is equally bad when whites are victims. No one should be discriminated against.''
Perlmutter is referring to public employment plans that provide for layoffs of more tenured white workers before less tenured minorities in order to protect an agreed-upon quota in the job force. This concept is being challenged this year in the US Supreme Court.