Wasahington Week

Jewish World Review Oct. 12, 2000 /25 Tishrei, 5762

Are apologists for Islamic extremists still welcome in White House?

By Eric Fingerhut
Washington Jewish Week

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- IN an effort to demonstrate that the United States' war on terrorism is not also a war on Islam and to speak out against hate crimes directed at Muslim Americans, President George W. Bush has met twice in the past month with representatives of Muslim American groups.

But all those groups and their leaders, while condemning the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, have a long history of condoning, and even supporting, terrorism that occurs in Israel and the groups -- Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah -- that carry it out.

American Jewish leaders are concerned about the increased access of these groups to the White House, and they have expressed their concerns to the Bush administration. Among the Muslim American groups are the Council of American-Islamic Relations, the American Muslim Council and the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

David Harris, American Jewish Committee executive director, said he hopes the White House will "think beyond the moment."

"It may be productive today, but it may turn out to be counterproductive tomorrow," he said. Meeting with Muslim leaders who "serve as apologists for extremist Islam is undermining administration policy [against terrorism], and making it even more difficult for genuine moderate Muslims to emerge."

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, agreed that it is "not helpful" to the White House to "build up" organizations that are themselves "associated with or have supported Hamas or Hezbollah." He said that this view has been conveyed to the administration.

Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League's national director, said that while he emphatically condemns acts of prejudice against Muslim Americans and stands up for its victims, he refuses to stand together with representatives of "hypocritical" Muslim American groups who refuse to condemn terrorism.

Major Jewish organizations have refused to join in any kind of coalition with many Muslim organizations. Earlier this year, the ADL, AJCommittee and American Jewish Congress pulled their names off amicus brief on a case dealing with religious freedom after CAIR signed its name to the document.

In 1995, CAIR, AMC and MPAC protested the U.S. designation of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations. According to the Muslim World Monitor, the groups said that characterization was wrong because "Palestinian resistance organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad have never committed any act outside of occupied Palestine and have only fought forces of the Israeli occupation."

Other examples of support for terrorists are plentiful. At a rally in Lafayette Park last October, Abdurahman Alamoudi, former executive director and current member of the board of directors of the AMC, said, "We are all supporters of Hamas. I am also a supporter of Hezbollah."

Alamoudi has repeatedly said that Hamas is "not a terrorist organization."

MPAC, in its statement about the Aug. 8 Sbarro pizzeria bombing that killed 15 Israelis, blamed Israel for the attack. The organization said that while "the tragic loss of human life ... was quite shocking ... it is the expected bitter result of the reckless policy of Israeli assassinations. ... MPAC holds Israel responsible for this pattern of violence."

In fact, MPAC's executive director and a participant in the Bush meeting, Salam al-Maryati, told a public radio interviewer in Los Angeles on Sept. 11 that Israel should be considered a suspect in the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

And CAIR has long shown a sympathy for terrorism. The group, to cite just one example, has called the verdict in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing "a travesty of justice" because it "represents the degree to which an anti-Muslim venom has penetrated into society."

All three organizations were among the co-sponsors of a virulently anti-Israel rally last October in front of the White House that included chants such as "Barak and Hitler are the same, the only difference is their name" and "Israel must not exist." Chanting protesters also called Israel "the cancer of the Middle East" and "a terrorist state."

All the groups also condemned the unsuccessful August 1998 attack that President Bill Clinton had launched on Osama bin Laden after the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa. MPAC leader Maher Hatout, who also was a visitor to the White House last month, called that attack "an act of terrorism," a "hate crime" and "illegal, immoral ... stupid and un-American."

CAIR appears to be covering up its history since the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. While it is customary for organizations to keep a record of past public statements on its Web site, no statements or news of any kind from before Sept. 11 are available on CAIR's site.

Harris speculated that CAIR may be trying to "reposition" itself as a more representative spokesperson for Muslims in America. But, he said, the organization has done "absolutely nothing to persuade us that they've changed their basic approach to issue of terror in the region."

Harris also noted that this problem is not new -- the Clinton administration also had meetings with these same groups during the 1990s.

Foxman said he would be happy to meet with Muslim American groups that do not support terrorism, but so far he has not found any with which he can meet.

Hoenlein said that Sheik Hisham Kabbani, the leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of America, is one Muslim leader whom he finds acceptable. Kabbani, who has spoken out against organizations such as CAIR and AMC, has found himself under attack from those organizations in the last two years.

And Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said that while it is difficult to find acceptable Muslims with whom to meet on a national level, some community relations councils have been building bridges to local Muslim groups.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, asked on three occasions why the president would meet with individuals who have condoned terrorism, has said each time that the president often meets with people with different opinions than his own.

"When the president meets with groups, it's not an indication, of course, that he agrees with everything anybody may have said in that group," Fleischer said on Sept. 28.

Morton Klein, the Zionist Organization of America's national president, finds that response unacceptable.

"Would the president meet with a group that has praised the Ku Klux Klan or neo-Nazis?" he said. "If the ZOA had once praised Baruch Goldstein [an Israeli who murdered more than two dozen Palestinians in 1994], we would be destroyed in the Jewish community."

"I think it's a serious mistake for any public official to meet with groups that have praised terrorist groups," Klein said.

Eric Fingerhut is a staff writer at the Washington Jewish Week. Comment by clicking here.


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