FBI Director Talking
President George W. Bush may be drawing clearer lines when it comes to terrorists and their supporters, but his FBI director apparently hasn’t gotten the message.
Robert S. Mueller, who took over the troubled agency only seven days before the Sept. 11 terror attacks, is scheduled Friday to attend the annual convention of the American Muslim Council (AMC).
A spokesman for the lawman said he accepted the invitation to address the group because the AMC is the “most mainstream Muslim group” in the United States.
A number of Jewish leaders choked on that assessment.
“The AMC’s association with organizations and individuals who have supported Hamas, and its refusal to take stands against suicide bombers, raises real questions about the propriety of the FBI director speaking at their conference,” said
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
He challenged the claim that AMC is a moderate group.
“If that’s the most mainstream Muslim group, it raises real questions about the direction of the Muslim movement in this country,” he said.
Jess Hordes, Washington director for the Anti-Defamation League, said, “We think it is a terrible misreading to view the AMC as a ‘mainstream’ organization at a time when some of their leaders continue in one form or another to express support for terrorism.”
If Mueller appears before the group, he said, it will only muddle the administration’s strong anti-terror message.
“Our point is that you have to have clarity on the issue of terrorism,” he said. “By meeting with a group that has, at best, an ambivalent position on terrorism, the FBI is sending the wrong message, and it emboldens the wrong people in the American Muslim community.”
Muslim outreach is important for federal law enforcement officials, Hordes said, “but not those organizations and individuals that are ambivalent about terror.”
The AMC delegates will also honor a handful of lawmakers, including some of Israel’s most vocal critics, such as Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas.)
But Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), the only Orthodox Jew in the Senate and a likely 2004 presidential contender, is also on the program.
A spokesman said Lieberman “is planning on dropping by the dinner, as he has almost every year for the past several, and making a few remarks.”
The spokesman said Lieberman views “AMC to be one of the more moderate groups. And because he is a leader on Middle East issues, he thinks it is very important to keep open the lines of communication with groups on all sides of the issues.”
In 2000, Senate candidate Hillary Clinton and then-Gov. George W. Bush of Texas returned $1,000 checks given to their campaigns by the former executive director of AMC, Abdurahman Alamoudi, who was still a board member at the time, because of his alleged support of terrorist groups.
According to the Internet magazine Salon, Alamoudi told a Washington rally in November 2000, “We are all supporters of Hamas.”
Last year Vice President Dick Cheney was roundly criticized by Jewish groups for meeting with delegates to the AMC’s convention.
Benny Elon’s Mideast Vision
President George W. Bush’s speech outlining a new U.S. vision for Israeli-Palestinian peace won high marks from most Jewish leaders here.
But a right-wing Israeli politician in town to promote his own peace plan wasn’t impressed.
Benny Elon, chairman of the Moledet party, confessed to admiring at least one aspect of the presidential address.
“On one hand, it was a source of inspiration to me because it teaches us to fight back and not to compromise with terror,” he said. “I was happy [Bush] didn’t fall into Arafat’s trap.”
He was less impressed with Bush’s call for a freeze on settlements and eventual Palestinian statehood.
“These are terrible ideas that will create problems in the long term,” he said.
Elon said he offered his seven-point peace plan to members of Congress and their staff. The plan involves the transfer of Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank, and the creation of a Palestinian state in the current Jordan — something mainstream Jewish leaders here consider perilously close to ethnic cleansing.
“In Israel, these ideas are becoming very popular,” he said, “and I’m sure that in America the idea will also go well.”
Elon said he met with several “mainstream congressmen and senators,” but refused to give their names.
He also met with the Christian Coalition, which is taking an increasingly hawkish pro-Israel view.
Arabs Invest In PR
The Arab League is investing $22 million in a public relations campaign designed to burnish its image.
But before the sheiks start writing checks, they should check with a University of Wisconsin political scientist who analyzed a recent PR campaign by the government of Saudi Arabia.
That effort produced mixed results, according to Ken Goldstein. While it showed a new determination by Arab leaders to get out their message, the campaign fell far short of the PR standard set by pro-Israel groups.
Goldstein said the recent Saudi effort “represented a very interesting first salvo” in the information wars. But even with the help of big-time Washington PR consultants, “It looked ham-handed — something just short of a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit.”
The Saudis forked over about $270,000 for more than 750 media spots in 19 cities, including $50,000 in the Washington area, where local television viewers include administration and congressional policymakers.
But the ad campaign “didn’t live up to its initial billing,” Goldstein said.
Still, the Saudi campaign and this week’s announcement of a broader Arab League PR effort signal a shift that should worry pro-Israel leaders, Goldstein said.
“The Arab side has never really played this game before,” he said. “It’s interesting that they are starting to play it. And they obviously have the resources to do a lot more.” n