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Zionist assails 'loathsome' massacre


Yesterday's massacre of Muslims in Hebron was "a loathsome, criminal act of murder and there's absolutely no excuse for it," said the president of Baltimore's principal Zionist organization.

Like most local Jewish leaders who commented on the tragedy, Joel R. Wohl, president of the Zionist Organization of America in Baltimore, said he hoped the peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians would stay on track and be intensified.

Muslim reaction was similar.

Dr. Bashar Pharoan, the president of the Islamic Society of Maryland, said, "I hope [the massacre] will be the impetus for both parties -- Israelis and Palestinians -- to move beyond fanaticism and extremism and find common ground."

Mr. Wohl said, "Israelis recognize and Palestinians recognize that there are extremists on both sides. The widely held opinion is that we need peace in the region."

Dr. Pharoan agreed that there are "radical Palestinians" as well as "radical Israelis." He said he hoped that responsible leaders on both sides will "use their heads."

But despite the broad agreement in reactions among Jews and Muslims, there were some variations in their perspectives.

Dr. Pharoan was more pessimistic than most Jewish commentators. "It's really very unfortunate that it came at a time when everybody is feeling good about the Middle East peace process," he said. "It's definitely a setback." The Muslim spokesman also expressed concern that so many Jewish leaders were already calling the massacre the senseless act of a single madman.

"It's too early to call him crazy," Dr. Pharoan said. "The assailant was a physician, trained to preserve life. I hope both parties [Jews and Muslims] do not discount this."

The Baltimore Jewish Council, an umbrella group representing Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis and congregations, issued a statement through its president, Sanford V. Teplitzky.

The council "deplores the murder of innocent civilians and the senseless violence committed on the West Bank today," Mr. Teplitzky said. "We urge both the Israelis and the Palestinians to do everything possible to accelerate the peace talks, to maintain public order and to take every possible step to prevent further bloodshed."

Darrell D. Friedman, president of the Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, said the reaction of all Jews he had talked to was the same: "Outrage and personal grief."

While describing the shooting as an "intolerable tragedy," he emphasized -- as did many other Jewish leaders -- that it was "an act of one man, not an organized entity."

Debra Gordon, 25, a Park School and University of Texas graduate on the staff of the Zionist Organization of America, said LTC she was as "horrified" as other Jewish Baltimoreans by the Hebron massacre, but it had not changed her decision to move to Israel next week.

Of the assailant's role as a physician in Israel, Ms. Gordon added, "Whether he were a doctor, lawyer, professor or whatever would make no difference, these were the actions of a single extremist, like the random violence we have in this country."

A frequent visitor to Israel, she spoke of the Jewish state's "intimacy and closeness' and said, "I feel safer there than at a stoplight in downtown Baltimore."

Lucia Goodhart, an Israeli-born American, who is a coordinator with the Jewish Board of Education in Baltimore, said she worried about the likelihood of "a people's war, retaliation back and forth -- I've seen it happen before."

Except when they are on the scale of yesterday's massacre in Hebron, irrational acts of violence by either Israelis or Palestinians "make news only in Israel," she said.

On the links between an organization founded by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane and Dr. Baruch Goldstein, who was identified yesterday as the assailant, a close Kahane friend and associate in Baltimore said the controversial leader of the Jewish Defense League would never have condoned the massacre in Hebron.

"If Kahane were alive, he certainly wouldn't have done anything like that," said Rabbi Marcel Blitz.

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