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February 13, 2004

Poll Presents Geneva In a Misleading Light

In her opinion article Debra DeLee, president of Americans for Peace Now, reports that 50% of American Jews polled by Peace Now said they were more likely to support the Geneva Understandings (the Israeli far left’s proposal for a full-scale Israeli territorial surrender and creation of a Palestinian Arab state) after being read a description of it (“A Silent Majority for Peace,” February 6). But there is reason to doubt that the description offered by the pollsters was fair and accurate.

For example, on the refugee issue, DeLee wrote that respondents were told that the Geneva document includes “a resolution to the Palestinian refugee issue consistent with Israel retaining its sovereignty over its immigration policy.”

Yet Article 7, Section 2 of the Geneva document says that “concerning the rights of the Palestinian refugees,” U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194, U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 and the ‘Arab Peace Initiative’ — meaning the Saudi plan — “represent the basis for resolving the refugee issue.” Both U.N. Resolution 194 and the Saudi plan endorse what the Palestinian Arabs call “the right of return” — the right to flood Israel with millions of refugees from around the world.

Article 7, Section 4 of the Geneva document proposes that such refugees can choose between moving to “Palestine,” Israel or third countries. It does say that Israel has “the sovereign discretion” as to how many refugees it will accept. Yet it also says that Israel’s calculation must “consider the average of the total numbers” that all other countries take in. Moreover, the Geneva document establishes an “International Commission” to resolve refugee resettlement issues. It is not hard to imagine that various Arab countries will present the commission with wildly exaggerated numbers as to how many refugees they have accepted, in order to pressure Israel to take in more. Disputes will be judged by an international commission, which, like most international commissions, will probably not be friendly to Israel.

Major-General Yaakov Amidror, former commander of the Israeli Army’s National Defense College and the Israeli Army Staff and Command College, recently wrote that “if an Israeli government were to refuse to fully implement the decisions of the international committee concerning the ‘return’ of tens or hundreds of thousands of refugees to Israeli territory, the Palestinians retain the right, according to the Geneva Accord, to continue the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and their struggle as they did before the agreement was signed.”

One wonders what kind of responses the Peace Now poll would have received if it had explained all of this to the respondents.

Morton A. Klein

National President

Zionist Organization of America

New York, N.Y.

Syrian Sweet-Talking

As a Syrian-American Muslim interested in a true and lasting piece with Israel, I read your interview with the Syrian ambassador to Washington with great interest (“Syria Diplomat Seeking Friends Among Public,” February 6). With the sister Ba’ath regime of Saddam Hussein toppled and Iranian students clamoring for freedom in the streets of Tehran, Syria’s dictator is shrewd enough to read the writing on the wall: There can be no holding back the deluge of liberalization now sweeping the Middle East.

However, instead of accepting the fact that an open and free society would best benefit the Syrian people, Bashar al-Assad and his Ba’ath cronies — in typical fashion — are attempting to present a false veneer of openness and reform to America and her allies.

Bashar, much like his father, former dictator Hafez al-Assad, has proved quite adept at presenting one face for Western consumption, and a completely contradictory one when it comes to sponsoring terror proxies like Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Indeed, the same two-faced game is in play when it comes to Assad providing cover for Saddam’s former minions and sanctuary for smuggled Iraqi WMDs, as the Syrian regime is widely believed to have done.

Now, Assad is utilizing Ambassador Imad Moustapha as his weapon of mass deception. Moustapha touts himself as the open-minded, softer, gentler face of the last Ba’athist stronghold on earth. In reality, this façade is nothing but a cynical attempt to lure our country into a false sense of comfort with the status quo of Syria’s dictatorship.

Moustapha is merely attempting to repackage the old and tired Ba’athist agenda of despotism, corruption and terror. In fact, Syria’s new PR blitz somewhat mirrors that of attempts made by the Wahhabi monarchy of Saudi Arabia to make its version of Islamist extremism palatable to the American public.

In the interview, Moustapha claims that Syria is “today witnessing a very serious, deeply penetrating reform agenda, and I was part of this movement before I came here. When I meet my president I understand his thinking, and I know he is a committed reformist.” But the formula for reform in Syria is a simple one: End autocratic Ba’ath rule. Moustapha seems to think that by presenting “the other face of Syria” he can convince the American populace, if not policy-makers, that Syria under the heavy-handed rule of Bashar al-Assad is a Syria that can coexist on friendly terms with our nation. Unfortunately, just as Assad is unwilling to end his direct involvement in international terror and just as he is unwilling to curb the tide of Syrian support to Iraqi terrorists killing American soldiers and innocent Iraqis in newly liberated Iraq, it is unlikely that a Syria ruled over by Assad’s Ba’ath machine will turn over a new leaf anytime soon.

Moustapha seems like a decent man, but if he possesses any hint of intellectual and moral honesty, he would do well to denounce the atrocities committed by his political benefactors and join all Syrians of good will in taking back their country from the iron fist of Ba’athist rule. That is the true measure of a real reformer.

Oubai Mohammad Shahbandar

Phoenix, Ariz.

Reciprocating Empathy

Whether or not the final version of “The Passion of the Christ,” to be released February 25, includes scenes that could foment antisemitism, one fact has become clear: Christian leaders are taking Jewish concerns about the Mel Gibson film very seriously (“Christians Launch Effort To Counter Film’s Impact,” January 30).

Recently I attended a program, “Jews, Christians, and Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion’: The Story, The Stakes, and The Strategy,” which was held at a Congregational church, and sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, the local clergy association, and Congregational Christian and Conservative Jewish congregations.

Contrast that with the usual response by non-Catholics when a film, play or exhibition abusing Catholicism is about to open. Catholic concerns are dismissed with a lecture on the First Amendment and freedom of expression, and the right to comment of those who haven’t yet seen the production is questioned.

Charles Chotkowski

Fairfield, Conn.

Cut Catholics Slack

I am very active in interfaith charity work with Catholic parishes, and I have been bowled over by the change in attitudes toward Jews and Judaism. In the six years I have been doing this, there has been not a single mention or endorsement of the old teaching of contempt for Jews. Instead, there is great interest in learning about Judaism. The spirit of John XXIII and Vatican II has clearly brought about a sea change in Catholic life, at least on the grass-roots level.

While I agree with Father Andrew Greeley’s assertion in his opinion article that Jews should not completely trust Catholics for a long time (“Catholics Greet Gibson’s ‘Passion’ With a Cacophony, Not a Chorus,” January 30), the current Catholic attitudes are so progressive (especially when compared with the evangelical Christian community), that the Jewish community simply must cut them some slack and respond in kind.

Lawrence J. Budner

Santa Ana, Calif.

Pro-Israel Profs Needed

In his January 30 opinion article Michael Kotzin accurately described perhaps the most serious problem on American college campuses today, namely the near absence of vocally pro-Israel faculty and the predominance of anti-Israel faculty at many campuses (“An Urgent Need for Israel Studies”).

The Israel on Campus Coalition as well as a separate task force of individuals with experience in academia and working with students are studying the problems with faculty and proposing treatments for what ails the academy. We are developing a multi-pronged strategy for addressing these problems that includes the creation of endowed chairs in Israel studies, creating a fund to support graduate training in Israel studies and related fields, training scholars whose specialties may be in other fields but who could be taught enough about Middle Eastern affairs to allow them to offer courses through their departments, and establishing programs for visiting Israeli diplomats to teach in local colleges.

Mitchell G. Bard

Faculty Task Force Chair

Israel on Campus Coalition

Chevy Chase, Md.

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