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Helping The Seeds Grow
r. Aaron Miller brings career diplomatic
credentials to his new job as president of
the international coexistence program
Seeds of Peace. With 25 years of service to
the State Department, he has advised six secretaries of
state, including Colin Powell. He helped formulate
U.S. policy on the Mideast and Arab-Israeli ties,
though the much-hyped 1993 Oslo Accords fell apart
amid Palestinian incitement and terror against Israel.
Joining the Seeds staff in mid-January after founder
John Wallach's death, Dr. Miller is confronted by the
need to design a plan that eases the clash of cultures
around the world, especially the Israeli-Arab conflict.
His mission is to inspire tolerance among impression-
able teenagers. Somehow, the upshot from
that must include moderate Arabs
denouncing the evil imagery of Jews spread
by fundamentalist Muslims.
Wallach envisioned bringing together future lead-
ers, selected by their governments, "to reveal the
human face of those they were raised to hate." His
philosophy: "By dispelling fear, mistrust and preju-
dice — the root causes of violence and conflict —
Seeds of Peace ensures that the future of peace is in
the hands of friends rather than enemies."
Since it emerged in 1993 after the first terror
attack on the World Trade Center in New York
City, Seeds of Peace has brought 2,000 teenagers
from 22 countries to its Maine camp. But camper
follow-up isn't what it should be, supporters
acknowledge. So the jury is out on how many lives
have profoundly changed through Seeds.
Even graduates admit that once they return to their
cultural roots, they're liable to lose contact, feel isolat-
ed and ignore much of what they've learned. The
program's credibility rests on sowing seeds of toler-
ance and trust between young people once taught to
hate each other.
Dr. Miller knows dialogue and empathy must
play out across the Middle East, not only at Seeds'
camp in Maine or the Jerusalem Center for
Coexistence serving camp alumni. He knows fruit-
ful diplomacy among governments brings
agreements, but grassroots support allows such
agreements to resonate.
OF I-10W 1 -0
Clearly, he must cultivate an environment
that allows learning about each other. You can't
solve problems or change perceptions if you
don't know what drives opposing thought.
For example, the stage must be set through
Seeds to robustly discuss the Jewish lament
that Arab state-sponsored propaganda injects
vulgar images of Jews into textbooks, music
videos, newspapers, TV shows and other vehi-
cles of communication.
Arab campers also must be willing to hear
more of what angers Jews: that
Palestinian maps show Israelis in
Palestine, not Israel; that Palestinians
want all of Israel, not just the disputed
territories; that Palestinians believe there's moral
equivalency between Israeli defensive strikes and
Palestinian suicide bombings; that Palestinians
believe refugees suffer because of Israeli aggres-
sion, not repressive leaders; that Saeb Erekat,
spokesman for terror-monger Yasser Arafat of
the Palestinian Authority, is an honorary Seeds
At the same time, Jewish campers must be
exposed to the Arab tilt on Middle East dis-
cord, even if they reject it: that Palestinians
believe they have a legitimate claim to Israel
Adam Shapiro when he led the Jerusalem Center for
and the disputed territories; that Palestinians believe
Jewish settlements in areas under their control feed
Coexistence (before he was dismissed from that post
the so-called cycle of violence; that Palestinians view
and joined the pro-Palestinian International
Solidarity Movement based in Ramallah).
Shimon Peres as the father of Israel's nuclear program
and as an aggressor when prime minister and when
Ultimately, if Seeds under Dr. Miller hopes for a
Jewish mandate validating the Arab world as a peace
serving under Ariel Sharon, therefore an inappropri-
ate honorary Seeds board member.
partner, it must prove itself to be a catalyst for open,
The other side could construe any of these beliefs
fair and honest debate. It must allow campers to dis-
cover the needs and fears of their enemies without
as a barrier to peace, yet worthy of scrutiny.
necessarily giving up what they believe in return.
_ Meanwhile, it's incumbent on Dr. Miller to repu-
With all the hatred and bloodshed in the Mideast,
diate program tendencies that breed the kind of
that exchange alone would be an accomplishment. ❑
counterproductive, anti-Israel drivel espoused by
Values Worth Preferring
e need to be fair before we are critical.
Education Secretary Rod Paige did not
say that he wanted public schools to
teach Christian curriculums or even that
students should say prayers to a Christian
deity. What he told a reporter for the
Baptist Press was that he believed Christian
universities had "the best deal."
According to a transcript released by the Department
of Education, Paige was asked about the relative
strengths of secular and religious colleges. He said: "Each
of them have real strong points and some of them have
some vulnerabilities, but you know, all things being
equal, I'd prefer to have a child in a school where there's
a strong appreciation for values, the kinds of values that
I think are associated with the Christian communities,
so that this child can be brought up in an environment
that teaches them to have strong faith and to under-
stand that there is a force greater than them personally."
Paige, a Southern Baptist with a solid record as a
public school superintendent in Houston before he
was elevated to the Bush cabinet, says he fully under-.
stands and supports the_need to separate church and
state. And, no doubt, a strong majority of
Americans agree with what he said about
the value of values, which for most would
be Christian values.
Nonetheless, it is not acceptable to have as the
nation's highest-ranking education officer someone
who does not understand how badly wrong it is to
prefer schools that have "the kinds of values that I
think are associated with the Christian communi-
ties." It would have been just as wrong for him to
prefer Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu values or, for
that matter, Jewish values.
The values that an education secretary must prefer
are American ones — democracy, equality of oppor-
tunity, freedom of speech and worship — the whole
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness regime that
our Constitution protects. Parents are free to select
religious-based institutions of education for their
children; government officials are charged with
making sure that the parents have those choices, not
with favoring one over another.
It doesn't take much looking to see what happens
when government officials say they prefer one set of
religious values over another. The world has been
there and done that again and again. Much of the
Arab world, for example, chooses to be governed by
Koranic precepts and offers its children the madras-
sas (Koranic schools) where they learn to despise
other cultures and not much else that fits them for
No doubt Secretary Paige was being honest about
his likings. The sad fact is that holding that view-
point partiality cripples his ability to serve. We hope
that he will come to see why he must adopt a more
democratic and appropriate opinion of the excel-
lence of the public universities his department is
chartered to support.