The limits of sympathy

Palestinian appeals for Jewish donations should be greeted with skepticism.

By JONATHAN S. TOBIN
April 30, 2006 04:16
4 minute read.
The limits of sympathy

Ashrawi 88. (photo credit: )

 
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In the wake of the collapse of the peace process and the rise of Hamas, the debate about how to engage the Palestinians continues to bedevil the US Jewish community. The Israeli government, as well as most Israelis and American Jews, clearly believes that there is no negotiating with a terrorist government. Nor do many see much purpose in a charade of talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose own equivocal views about terror only look good in comparison with the bloodthirsty instincts of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Aksa Martyrs Brigade of his own Fatah party. At the same time, we are sensitive to the humanitarian disaster the Palestinians have inflicted upon themselves. There is no question that the situation in the territories is bad. The corruption of the Palestinian Authority helped kill whatever business wasn't wiped out by the conflict they have fomented. Widespread unemployment is exacerbated by the fact that many with jobs are simply part of the PA's bloated payroll and do no productive work. Having destroyed their economy by choosing war over peace time and time again - and having now isolated themselves from an international community eager to help by voting for Hamas - Palestinians still turn to the world with their hands out, pleading for assistance. Such appeals sound like the lament of a child who has murdered his parents and then asks for sympathy because he's an orphan. SO TO whom do they turn? Why, to American Jews, of course. Who else would be an easier mark for Palestinian hustlers than those Jews whose idea of Jewish identity is to support any cause but that of their own people? Ever since the beginning of the Oslo peace process a certain portion of American Jewry has been flinging some of its charitable donations down the sinkhole that is the Palestinian economy. Some were enticed to invest in Palestinian businesses with the laudable notion that by promoting a healthy Arab economy, they would not only build a constituency for peace but make some cash too. But almost all who did so saw their investments fall victim to the avarice of the Palestinian kleptocracy or the senseless violence of its terrorist apparatus. Others invested in advanced training for Palestinians. This led to some PA bureaucrats getting a free ride at the Harvard Business School, courtesy of American Jews, where they may have honed their intellects but failed to apply the principles of sound finance to their own government's financial skullduggery. Now in the wake of the latest Palestinian disaster comes a new set of American pilgrims who hope to feed hungry Palestinian kids in the name of peace and coexistence. But while we should all be sympathetic to appeals to help children, some prudence about those Palestinian adults who ask for our money is called for. And when such requests come from a longtime Israel-basher and former spokeswoman for the arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat like Hanan Ashrawi, skepticism ought to be the order of the day. AS IT happens, Ashrawi is here in the United States, making a stop in Philadelphia last week to help raise money for the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, which has had ties with the Holy Land Foundation now shut down by the US government. Indeed, according to the American Jewish Committee, the Holy Land Foundation - which along with three other Islamic charities was found liable for the 1996 murder of 16-year-old American David Boim at the hands of Hamas gunmen in the West Bank - tried unsuccessfully in 2004 to divert some of its frozen assets to the Palestine Children's Relief Fund. According to Yehudit Barsky, director of AJCommittee's division on Middle East and international terrorism, had they succeeded in doing so it would have limited the amount of money available to pay the judgment awarded to Boim's parents. In addition to speaking at a formal dinner for the group, Ashrawi was also hosted by local Jews, including some with long records of Jewish activism, for a fundraiser specifically aimed at raising Jewish money. These Jews say that past statements of their new Palestinian friends are irrelevant to the obligation to give tzedeka, as well as to build bridges for peace. But how can anyone trust Palestinian charities that are compromised by their terrorist connections to carry out the noble intentions of their Jewish donors? While the impulse to help needy kids is commendable, Jews who are solicited need to think carefully about the ultimate destination of funds raised by such persons, and whether or not better ways exist to help the Palestinians in the long and short term. One suggestion might be for Palestinians to stop educating the younger generations to hate Jews, and to cease promoting terrorism and suicide bombing as the kind of fate a child ought to embrace. If they did, there would be no need for them to ask for alms from Jews - who are, ironically enough, the intended victims of such violence. The writer is executive editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia.

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