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Newsdesk March 12, 2004

Arabs Fight Syria Sanctions

Several of Washington’s Arab allies are urging the Bush administration not to impose sanctions on Syria, arguing that such measures would discourage reform in Damascus and further foment anti-American sentiments in the Middle East, Arab diplomatic sources said.

The administration leaked to reporters and members of Congress last week that President Bush has decided to implement the Syria Accountability Act, passed by Congress late last year, which authorizes him to slap sanctions on Damascus. Washington is accusing Bashar Assad’s regime of sponsoring terrorism; failing to secure its border with Iraq, thereby allowing anti-American militants to cross into the country; striving to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and occupying Lebanon.

“At a time when the U.S. is trying to encourage reform in the Arab world, this sends the opposite message,” said an Arab diplomat, who asked not to be identified. “The message is that America doesn’t want to engage but to punish.”

ZOA Rebuked Over Ross

The Zionist Organization of America drew strong criticism this week from Sallai Meridor, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, over its claim that former American Middle East envoy Dennis Ross has exhibited a “pro-Arab bias.”

Meridor blasted ZOA’s claim, contained in a press release issued last week, as “outrageous” and blatantly false. Since leaving the State Department in 2001, where he served under the past three presidents, Ross has headed the pro-Israel think tank Washington Institute for Near East Policy and served as the chairman of the board of the Jewish Agency’s Policy Planning Institute for the Jewish People. He has consistently blamed the Palestinians for the current breakdown in the peace process.

“Dennis was a fair and honest diplomat, and that does not in any way negate the fact that he views a strong Israel as an American national interest,” Meridor said. “To me he is a living example to the fact that one can be a loyal American and a loyal Israel-loving Jew without there being any contradiction.”

Meridor’s remarks came in a response to the ZOA statement, which applied the “pro-Arab” label to all four men — Ross, former President Jimmy Carter, former national security advisor Samuel “Sandy” Berger and former secretary of state James Baker— named by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry as possible Middle East peace envoys.

ZOA National President Morton Klein said his characterization of Ross was based on press reports and personal accounts from senior Israeli politicians.

Ross was unavailable for comment.

Doves Barred From School

In a last-minute action on Wednesday, the Israeli Education Ministry blocked the architects of the Geneva Understanding — Yossi Beilin, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and Shaul Arieli — from lecturing to high school students in Arad.

The step was taken despite the fact that the lecture had been coordinated weeks before with the administration of the Ort Comprehensive High School.

The three, who favor a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 border, had already arrived in Arad when they were informed that they would not be allowed to appear before the students. The last-moment decision was made on the orders of Deputy Education Minister Zvi Hendel of the far-right National Union Party. The ban was endorsed by the ministry’s director general, Ronit Tirosh.

According to the original plan, the school was to have invited a representative of the right to lecture to the students in three weeks’ time.

Arad Deputy Mayor Maxim Oaknin, who oversees the town’s education system and was upset over the cancellation, said he had initiated a meeting to enable Gaza Strip settlers to present their opinions to the students.

Beilin called the ban “shameful” and accused Education Minister Limor Livnat of “bringing us to years of darkness.”

Hillel Head Draws Support

The board of Columbia University’s Hillel is encountering unexpected, growing opposition from students and alumni over its intended removal of longtime director Rabbi Charles Sheer.

A pro-Sheer petition organized by four recent alumni was posted online last week and has already garnered more than 550 signatories in support of the rabbi, who has headed the Columbia/Barnard Hillel, one of the largest and most active in the country, for three decades.

Sheer’s contract with Hillel is set to expire in June. Richard Kobrin, co-president of the board, would not comment to the Forward “out of respect” for the rabbi. None of the parties involved, including Sheer, would discuss the board’s reason for wanting a change.

Abu Abbas Dies

Mohammed “Abu” Abbas, the mastermind behind the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship, has died at the age of 55. U.S. officials on Tuesday confirmed that the death was due to natural causes. Abbas’s Palestine Liberation Front engineered the 1985 hijacking during which terrorists shot Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old Jewish man in a wheelchair, then dumped him into the ocean as his wife watched. Abbas, who was captured by U.S. forces in April 2003, later called the killing a “mistake,” but claimed Klinghoffer was “provoking” other passengers.

Though Abbas was said to have renounced terrorism, he told the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds in 1998 that the “struggle between us and Israel does not stop at any limits.’’

Poll: Alabamans Like Jews

Few people in Alabama blame Jews for the death of Jesus, a new polls says. A Mobile Register-University of South Alabama poll of state residents found 7% blamed Jews for the death of Jesus, while 10% held the Romans accountable and 64% pinned the blame on all of humanity. The poll also showed that just 11% held a “somewhat” or “very unfavorable” opinion of Judaism; 61% said they would not be uneasy “at all” if a close relative converted to Judaism. There are 9,000 Jews in the state.



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