Baltimore Jewish leaders expressed reluctant approval yesterday of Yasser Arafat's share of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize. Local Islamic leaders said it was unfair to talk about the terrorist past of the head of the PLO without mentioning the militaristic history of co-honoree Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
All said they hoped the awarding of the prize to Mr. Arafat, Mr. Rabin and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres would improve the prospects for peace in the Mideast.
"In my heart, I find it hard to swallow," Rabbi Mark G. Loeb of Beth El Congregation said of Mr. Arafat's award. "But I find the [Nobel Peace Prize] committee's thinking sincere. After all, Rabin is risking his political survival and Arafat is smart enough to know that there are many in his own camp who would murder him for what he is doing."
Dr. Bashar Pharoan, the president of the Islamic Society of Maryland, said many Palestinians were shot and beaten during Mr. Rabin's tenure as Israeli defense minister in the 1980s, when he used an "iron fist" policy to put down an uprising in the occupied territories.
"I would not say Mr. Rabin does not deserve the Nobel Prize because of his past. He made the step forward for peace. The same thing is true of Mr. Arafat," he said.
Imam Ronald R. Shakir of the Masjid Walter Oman mosque in West Baltimore said he believed Mr. Arafat, Mr. Rabin and Mr. Peres all deserved the award. He said a Nobel Peace Prize committeeman was wrong in resigning in protest of the award to Mr. Arafat.
"He misconstrued the whole reason behind the award. It's encouragement to continue working for peace," he said.
Arthur C. Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said, "You can't forget the past -- the Jewish community in particular has learned that lesson." But he added, "Arafat demonstrated a commitment to peace. That fact should be paramount at this particular time."
"I'm thrilled at the recognition at the major move to peace in the Middle East," said Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of Beth Tfiloh Congregation.
Rolande G. Berman, a member of Baltimore Jews for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, said Mr. Arafat's past should not be an issue in his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. "It's a very courageous act for him to pursue that struggle for peace. He's putting his life on the line."