Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Zionist Attempt to Smear Midwest Conference on Jerusalem Backfires

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Zionist Attempt to Smear Midwest Conference on Jerusalem Backfires

Article excerpt

Zionist Attempt to Smear Midwest Conference on Jerusalem Backfires

A coordinated attempt by pro-Israel activists in the local media and national Zionist organizations to discredit an interfaith conference on "Jerusalem and Justice" has backfired spectacularly in Indianapolis. More than twice as many people attended the May 11 event as had been anticipated by the five Muslim, Christian, Arab-American and peace groups that organized it.

Last January, conference organizers selected Indianapolis as the site for a conference to discuss the place of Jerusalem, sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews, in a Middle East peace settlement for three reasons. First, it represents the heartland of America and had never hosted a conference on the Middle East. Second, it is the outreach headquarters for a major American Muslim organization, the American Muslim Council (AMC), and with strong local Christian churches, the potential for Christian-Muslim dialogue was excellent.

The third reason for choosing the Indiana city is that several key players in U.S. foreign affairs come from Indianapolis or nearby. Among them are Sen. Richard Lugar of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chairman Lee Hamilton of the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, and, of course, Vice President Dan Quayle. In addition to AMC, the other conference organizers were the Attiyeh Foundation from nearby Champaign, IL; Mercy Corps International and Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding from Chicago; and the Middle East Policy Council of Washington, DC, which has a strong Indiana working group.

As soon as the initial invitations had been mailed and conference organizers had met with local Jewish, Muslim and Christian clergy, the campaign of misinformation and intimidation began. Dr. Marcia Goldstone, Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Indianapolis (JCRC), launched a vicious attack in the Indianapolis Star, owned by the vice president's family.

During the week of April 27, articles also began to appear in the newspaper's news columns, still featuring the views of Dr. Goldstone without criticism or refutation. They maintained that" local groups balk" at the forthcoming conference, which was characterized as "anti-Israeli" and with a "pro-Palestinian tilt." Indianapolis clergy and peace activists were quoted as stating they did not support the conference.

As one of the conference organizers, I contacted leaders reported to have made negative comments and learned that they had been quoted out of context. In fact, some had done considerable work to promote the event. One church leader who was reported as refusing to attend told me that in fact he had cleared his schedule so that he could be present for the entire conference.

Local Zionist leaders began to pressure participants.

One week prior to the conference, the Indianapolis Star began carrying on a daily basis articles or letters to the editor related to the conference. While letters supporting the conference did appear, they were held to approximately 50 percent of the length of the anti-conference correspondence.

Local Zionist leaders then began to pressure participants in the conference. An Indianapolis NBC-TV news anchor withdrew from his scheduled role as moderator of a debate between the Israeli consul general and Palestinian attorney Jonathan Kuttab. Then the Israeli consul general also withdrew, followed by a rabbi from Champaign, IL who was to give the Jewish "faith" perspective on Jerusalem. Warned that last minute withdrawals by partisans of Israel (who initially request equal time) are a time-honored means of making carefully balanced conferences seem one-sided, the conference organizers were prepared to find replacements on short notice.

On Monday morning, May 11th, the daylong conference began. The organizers originally had planned for a maximum audience of 125 persons, but feared that the avalanche of negative news stories might dramatically reduce participation. …

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