WASHINGTON — Congressmen are deciding whether to demand that the Palestinian Authority take concrete steps to stop anti-Israeli incitement as a condition for American aid to the territories.
Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives are considering attaching such conditions to the additional financial aid that President Bush intends to grant the P.A. in his 2006 budget, congressional sources said. Lawmakers are alarmed over reports from pro-Israel organizations documenting a proliferation of anti-Israeli and antisemitic statements in the Palestinian media, schools and mosques.
Palestinian incitement “is going to be a very big issue for Congress as we move ahead to the next few years,” said Ester Kurz, director for legislative strategy and policy at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the influential pro-Israel lobby. Several members of Congress, she said, may demand “some kind of linkage” between additional aid and stopping incitement.
“We are still several weeks away from considering the 2006 budget on foreign aid,” Kurz said, “so a lot will depend on [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s] visit to Washington [this week], and on what the administration will request” in terms of aid to the Palestinians.
Senator Hillary Clinton zeroed in on the incitement issue during her speech Tuesday in Washington at Aipac’s annual policy conference.
“We must continue to be vigilant about monitoring hate and incitement and antisemitism not only by the Palestinian Authority but throughout the Arab world,” said Clinton, a New York Democrat. “We must continue to shine a bright spotlight on these messages of hatred and these enticements for martyrdom in these textbooks and on the media that take young minds and twist and pervert them and create a new generation of terrorists and insurgents.”
The Forward has learned that two lawmakers, Republican Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire and Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman of California, are demanding that the U.S. Agency for International Development explain the anti-Israeli and antisemitic content in the textbooks. Money from USAID, which is the vehicle for allocating American aid to the Palestinians, does not pay for the production or printing of the textbooks, but it does fund construction of schools in the West Bank and Gaza. An aid to Sherman, Don McDonald, confirmed that Sherman is sending letters on the issue to USAID and the State Department.
The demands for stronger Palestinian action to curtail hate-filled rhetoric come at a time when incitement in the P.A.-controlled media has actually dropped. Several Israeli officials recently said that Abbas, also known by his nom-de-guerre Abu Mazen, is taking significant action to curb such expressions of hatred.
“Since Abu Mazen [became] chairman, I think there [has been] a decrease in the incitement in the [Palestinian] media,” said Major General Amos Gilad, who directs the Israeli military’s political department. But, Gilad added, incitement in Palestinian schools and mosques is still plentiful and “the minds are poisoned on a daily basis.”
In elementary-school Palestinian textbooks, Gilad said, “there is no Israel. Terrorists are heroes. Their portraits look at you from any wall. There is an industry of glorification” of terrorists.
“That’s why,” he said, stopping the incitement should be a “precondition” of any future agreement with the Palestinians.
Members of Congress are particularly concerned about disturbing content in Palestinian textbooks. They have been receiving a steady flow of information on the topic from one Israeli organization in particular, the Israel Resource News Agency. The agency regularly provides congressmen with controversial selections from Palestinian textbooks. One 10th-grade textbook cited by the agency identified the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ — the century-old antisemitic forgery alleging a worldwide Jewish conspiracy — as the manifest of the Zionist movement. Textbooks still feature maps that do not identify Israel.
The agency’s director, David Bedein, said that he and his colleagues recently briefed senior officials in the White House on Palestinian incitement and have held five sessions on Capitol Hill during the past two years.
In preparation for Abbas’s Washington visit, Bedein said, his organization has been sending out a daily update, instead of its usual weekly report, to American lawmakers on anti-Israeli incitement in the territories.
“Of course we are doing it because of the Abu Mazen visit,” Bedein said.
Several other recent developments have focused attention in Washington on inflammatory public rhetoric in the Palestinian territories. One was the appearance of a link to the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” on an official Web site of the P.A. The link was removed from the site after it was harshly condemned by American Jewish organizations.
On May 13 Palestinian national television carried a sermon delivered by Sheik Ibrahim Mudeiras of Gaza City, a cleric known for his fiery speeches, in which he called Jews “a virus resembling AIDS.” He accused Jews of committing bigger crimes against Palestinians than the Nazis committed against Jews, contended that the Nazis were only reacting to crimes that the Jews committed against Germans, and yearned for the day when everything in the world “will rid itself of Jews.”
Following outraged reactions from across the world, Palestinian leaders denounced Mudeiras. Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Shaath called for the sheik’s dismissal and promised to prevent the future broadcast of similar sermons on Palestinian television. Commentaries in the Palestinian press also condemned Mudeiras.
Some experts say that even if Abbas and other Arab leaders take decisive steps to fight incitement, it will take time to undue the damage of earlier propaganda. “You are talking about a long-term endeavor,” said Yonah Alexander, a veteran terrorism expert who co-directs the International Law Institute in Washington.
“These are societies that have been conditioned for generations to believe conspiracy theories and lies,” Alexander said. “What you need is no less than a cultural transformation.”
The point seemed to be hammered home by a recent study on Arab perceptions of the United States conducted for the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential think tank. The study was based on a series of focus groups with university graduates in three Muslim countries: Egypt, Morocco and Indonesia. The findings stunned the report’s co-author, Craig Charney.
Among many of the respondents, Charney said, anti-Americanism was fed by antisemitic stereotypes. “We did not plan to write about this subject. we didn’t even have any questions in our questionnaire about it. But it kept coming up spontaneously,” Charney said.
Many Arabs spoke of Jewish omnipotence in the United States. When asked about the proportion of Jews in American society, respondents’ estimates ranged between 10% and 85%, though studies repeatedly put the figure at under 2%. Some participants in the focus groups thought that as many as 80% of American lawmakers and 90% of people in the media are Jewish.
“Even people who are better informed than others in their societies held such views,” Charney said. “They truly believe it.”