Inquiry and forum on Israel bashing leads to free-speech "legend."
JAMES D. BESSER
is become an article of faith
throughout the Arab world and
in some U.S. left-wing circles.
But to pro-Israel leaders and
leadina b members of the Senate, it's a
dangerous urban legend, at best —
and at worst, deliberate disinforma-
For weeks, Arab newspapers have
been running stories about rumored
new legislation by Sen. Rick
Santorum, R-Pa., a member of the
GOP congressional leadership and a
strong backer of the government in
Israel, that would "prohibit" criticism
of Israel on college campuses.
The stories detail how Santorum
will demand "ideologi-
cal diversity" on Middle
East issues on campuses.
If schools allow only
teaching hostile to
Israel, they could lose
their government fund-
The problem with the Santorum
story: No such legisla-
tion has been introduced or even con-
templated. The story originated with
several leading conspiracy theorists
and Holocaust revisionists after
Santorum and several other lawmakers
— including Sen. Norm Coleman, R-
Minn., and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-
Kan. — held a meeting with Jewish
groups to discuss campus anti-
"The meeting was held because we
see the rise of anti-Semitism as a
threat, not only to Jews but to free-
dom everywhere," said a high-ranking
Senate source. "We wanted other
countries and the State Department to
know of our interest. And we wanted
to learn more about what's happening
on college campuses, where the
growth of anti-Semitism has been
The result: a meeting with "many
presentations from different groups,"
this source said. "It was very interest-
ing, and not a little scary."
Several participants suggested creat-
ing a Capitol Hill working group to
examine rising anti-Semitism; others
suggested a panel to look at ideological
diversity on campus.
"Then, the next thing we knew, we
were getting calls from the State
Department, telling us that the
Palestinian press was reporting that we
were preparing legislation," the Senate
source said. In recent days, the story
jumped to left-wing Internet sites and
campus news sources in this country.
No new laws are in the works, the
source said. "Sen. Santorum is cur-
rently looking at the problem and
gathering information. That's consis-
tent with his job and his oath of
Several Jewish leaders who attended
the meeting confirmed that claim.
the approval process to go without a
hitch if, as expected, the Knesset pass-
es Israel Finance Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu's sweeping economic plan
— which has generated a political
firestorm in Israel.
The Bush administration isn't missing
an opportunity to talk up the just-
released international road map for the
creation of a Palestinian state.
Last week, Secretary of State Colin
Powell pitched the plan in an unusual
venue: the annual Days of
Remembrance commemoration in the
Capitol Rotunda. The road map was
on Powell's mind; that morning, U.S.
Officials had officially delivered the
plan to Israeli and
In final negotiations over the $9 bil-
lion in loan guarantees for Israel
The event, which has
approved by Congress last month,
held every year
Washington demanded that Israel do
since 1980, included
what U.S. officials apparently aren't
comments from Fred
interested in doing: make a serious
Zeidman, chairman of
effort to cut the government deficit.
the U.S. Holocaust
But an immediate reduction in the
Memorial Council, sur- Powell
Israeli deficit will not be a condition
vivor and Nobel
of finalizing the loan guarantees. The
Laureate Elie Wiesel, Israeli
money, which will be raised through
Ambassador Danny Ayalon and
loans with private banks, could start
flowing early this summer.
Candle lighters included Senate
Ohad Marani, the director general
of the Israel Finance Ministry, told the Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.,
Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., House
Globe's financial newspaper that a
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-
U.S.-Israel joint committee will evalu-
ate the final version of the Sharon gov- Calif., Sen. George Voinovich, R-
Ohio, and Paul Zenon Wos, a Polish
ernment's economic plan before
Christian who rescued Jews from the
President George W. Bush releases the
first wave of guarantees.
Powell, addressing the somber audi-
An official at the Israeli embassy said
ence, said, "I am especially privileged
that last week's talks were "very friend-
to mark the 60th anniversary of the
ly and productive. There were no sur-
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and the
prises for either side." Israel agreed to
10th anniversary of the founding of
cut its deficit through reduced spend-
the United States Holocaust Memorial
ing, not increased taxes.
Museum. The Holocaust challenged
The Bush administration is pushing
civilization as we thought we knew it.
for new tax cuts in the United States,
The Holocaust revealed deep fissures
although it has been unsuccessful in
in civilization's foundation and below
holding back spending. Congress also
it, the abyss to which humankind can
approved an extra $1 billion in mili-
tary aid for Israel this year. But the
But after praising the museum and
loan guarantees will be spread out over
speaking about the importance of
three years; the president has the
memory, he plunged into more cur-
power to stop the flow if he deems
rent topics, including the liberation of
that Israel is not living up to its eco-
and the controversial Mideast
U.S. officials expect the last step in
He praised President's Bush's vision of
"two independent states, the Jewish
state of Israel and Palestine living side
by side in peace and security," and said
that with the confirmation of Mah-
moud Abbas as Palestinian prime minis-
ter, "a new opportunity has been created
for achieving the president's vision."
His use of the Holocaust event to
lobby for the road map drew a mixed
reaction. A leading Holocaust scholar
and former museum official said it was
not surprising — or offensive — that
Powell used the solemn occasion to
lobby for the Mideast plan. "Powell
had to do it," said Michael
Berenbaum. "He is under savage
attack precisely because of his posi-
tions on the Mideast.
"This was clearly a Jewish audience,
a good political venue, so he almost
had to comment on it."
Rabbi Avi Weiss, a longtime
Holocaust activist and museum critic,
saw things differently. "I have prob-
lems with someone coming in and
using the Shoah as a platform for their
political agenda," he said. "I've been
involved in the preservation of Shoah
memory for a long time, and I've seen
the Shoah abused and manipulated.
To use it in this way is offensive."
Rabbi Weiss added that he has "seri-
ous problems" with the road map
Meanwhile, officials at the museum
had no comment about last week's
invitation to Abbas to visit the facility.
The invitation was extended by Rep.
Tom Lantos, D-Calif., the only
Holocaust survivor in Congress, dur-
ing a widely publicized Mideast swing.
President Bush has invited the new
Palestinian leader to the White House;
so far, there is no word whether Abbas
will take Lantos up on his offer for a
Museum officials — who said they
knew nothing about Lantos' invitation
— have good reason to be apprehen-
sive. The 1998 effort by the State
Department to get Palestinian
Authority President Yasser Arafat to
the museum turned into a major con-
troversy for the institution.
Opponents of vouchers for private and