October 29: Factual errors

A recent op-ed contained several factual errors that merit correction.

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October 28, 2007 20:49
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Factual errors Sir, - A recent op-ed ("Mainline? Out of bounds," October 23, 2007) contained several factual errors that merit correction. It states that a meeting that Iranian President Ahmadinejad had with American Christian leaders had been coordinated by the National Council of Churches (NCC). Instead, the meeting was coordinated by the Mennonite Central Committee and the American Friends Service Committee. Rev. Shanta Premawardhana, the NCC interfaith director, did attend the 2006 meeting and did travel to Teheran in 2007 as part of a delegation that met with Iranian religious leaders and Ahmadinejad. These meetings did not occur without serious public and private expressions of concern by Jewish leaders. Whatever one may think of the wisdom of participating in these delegations, it should be noted that according to detailed reports we received from multiple sources, Rev. Premawardhana used the Teheran meeting to challenge the Iranian president for his comments about the Holocaust and Israel. He told the Iranian president that his idea to hold a plebiscite of all the peoples in the region on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a "non-starter" since was simply another route to "wipe Israel off the map." Rev. Premawardhana said that this was contrary to the positions of mainline churches which, he noted, recognize Israel's right to exist. Rev. Premawardhana, did not, as he is misquoted in the op-ed, call the Iranian leader "pious and witty." We also know Rev. Premawardhana to have pointedly challenged Ahmadinejad about his Holocaust denial conference. There is a serious conversation to be had about the wisdom of meeting with a despot like Ahmadinejad. We believe that such encounters often serve only to give additional standing or sanction to tyrants. Regardless, the conversation about these meetings should happen on its merits, not with inaccurate accusations against an individual who, once at the meeting, endeavored to do the right thing. ETHAN FELSON Jewish Council for Public Affairs RABBI ERIC GREENBERG Anti-Defamation League RABBI GARY GREENEBAUM American Jewish Committee MARK PELAVIN Commission on Interreligious Affairs of Reform Judaism RABBI DAVID SAPERSTEIN Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism For the record Sir, - Please allow me to correct some inaccuracies in Jonny Paul's report "Oxford cancels one-state debate" (October 22). In fairness to Mr. Paul, I should point out that he did ask me for my side of the story, but I did not have the time to reply. I did not propose the motion: "This house believes that one-state is the only solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict." Nor did I have anything to do with the lineup of speakers. The president of the Oxford Union, Mr. Luke Tryl, invited me a long time ago to participate in the debate on either side of the motion. I have in fact always been a supporter of the two-state solution, but I planned to argue that that since Israel is systematically destroying the basis for a genuine two-state solution, the one-state is the only remaining alternative. Prof. Norman Finkelstein was invited to speak against the motion. When I heard that Finkelstein was dropped under pressure from Alan Dershowitz, the American-Jewish lawyer, I wrote to Mr. Tryl on October 18 to protest. I wrote: "Disinviting a speaker is a very serious matter and it raises questions about the Oxford Union's commitment to free speech. Unless the invitation to Norman Finkelstein is renewed, I will not take part in the debate." Tryl replied to say he had been subjected to intense pressure from Alan Dershowitz and other quarters, but that his decision to change the speakers was not the result of caving in to this pressure. He asked me and the other two speakers for the motion, Prof. Ilan Pappé and Dr. Ghada Karmi, to reconsider our decision to withdraw. All three of us confirmed our decision not to take part in the debate unless Finkelstein was reinvited. He was not reinvited and we stayed away. On October 21, I wrote to Luke Tryl: "I understand that you have been subjected to a lot of pressure recently. You have my sympathy. But perhaps it was a mistake to give in to the pressure. Some people are never satisfied. In any case, I cannot see how dropping Norman Finkelstein can be squared with the principle of free speech." Peace Now-UK co-chair Paul Usiskin greatly inflates his own part in this sorry saga. He even claims the credit for having prevailed on Tryl to drop Finkelstein, although Dershowitz has a stronger claim to this dubious distinction. Whether Usiskin took part in the debate or not was not of the slightest concern to me. My only interest was with the infringement of the principle of free speech at my own university by excluding an academic expert from the debate on solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The fact that Finkelstein and I were on opposite sides of the debate is irrelevant. Finally, Usiskin told Paul that I am a key figure in the campaign for the academic boycott of Israel. In fact, I strongly oppose the boycott because it would infringe the freedom of Israeli academics. AVI SHLAIM St. Anthony's College Oxford, UK Sharing sacred space Sir, - Re "It need not be a 'clash'" (UpFront, October 5): While guest columnist Bassam Eid made a fine case for the resolution of conflicts of interests, values and goals between Arabs and Westerners on a secular level, he failed to relate to the question that lies at the heart of the Middle East conflict: What happens when values and goals have become sanctified over the years by mutually exclusive religious doctrines, so much so that a meeting point has yet to be found concerning state sovereignty over the Holy City of Jerusalem. Unless a new approach can be invented for dealing with shared sacred space, the conflict will never really be resolved - for neither Jews nor Arabs, Westernized or not, will feel at peace with themselves if the one has to succumb to the sacrosanct values and goals of the other. LILY POLLIACK Jerusalem Sir, - Bassam Eid was being disingenuous at the very least when he claimed that "most Arab States have been more willing (than the United States) to submit to UN decisions." The most glaring instance of the fallacy of this claim was the Arabs' unwillingness to accept the 1947 UN partition proposal, resulting in six decades of violence and misery, with no end in sight. Though the proposal was for a solution that would have been difficult to implement, human experience has shown that where there is a spirit of cooperation and goodwill, much can be achieved. Look at the European Coal and Steel Agreement of the late 1940s to see what the desire to cooperate can lead to over the years. The West's mistaken perception of the East, which Eid notes, is more than balanced by the East's misperception of the entire Western world as McDonald's and what is seen on television. The way the West sees Arab hostility is "if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it very probably is a duck." The West's reaction to the East is also more than just "perceptions"; it is, manifestly, a response to actual acts of violence, hostility and terrorism. If the feeding hand is bitten too often, one must not be surprised if it grabs a stick. The question of why Muslims flock to the West, while despising Western life, remains unanswered. D. MEYER Haifa

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