WASHINGTON, Sept 15 (iviews.com) -- Just two months after helping to block the nomination of an American Muslim to a Congressional commission on the grounds that he "justified Arab terrorism," a major American Jewish organization has admitted it met with an anti-Muslim Lebanese terrorist.
When Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) in Los Angeles, was named by House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) to a Congressional commission that reviews national policies against terrorism, several American Jewish organizations moved to block that appointment. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations took a lead role, lobbying for weeks against the appointment on the grounds that Al-Marayati "justified Arab terrorism."
In the summer of 1998, this same group met with Etienne Saqr, a Lebanese Christian billed at the time as a crusader for human rights. Saqr was shuttled around New York by an Israeli activist and met with the Conference and other Jewish groups. (1)
But in the summer of 1976, Saqr was helping to lead the massacre of at least 3,000 Palestinian men, women, and children at Tel al-ZaÕatar, a refugee camp east of Beirut. (2) "If you feel compassion for Palestinian women and children," Saqr told his gunmen during the siege, "remember they are Communists and will bear new Communists." (3)
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told iviews.com that he met with Saqr and his delegation to discuss the situation of Christians in Lebanon. Hoenlein added that a staff member had checked out SaqrÕs background before the meeting.
On the issue of his organization's apparent double standard though, Hoenlein said that his group's opposition to Al-MarayatiÕs nomination "is not comparable in any way to the question of whether we sit with somebody and hear about the plight of a community."
Hoenlein said he was unaware that Saqr was responsible for any massacres and said that his group condemned all massacres. Asked whether he would condemn Saqr by name were he to learn Saqr was in fact responsible for the deaths of civilians, Hoenlein replied that he would not answer hypothetical questions.
"The Conference should prescribe [its] own medicine and disqualify [itself] from participating in any counter-terrorism policymaking," Al-Marayati said, when informed of the groupÕs meeting with Saqr. "It is sheer hypocrisy for a group to accuse Muslims of justifying terrorism in order to block our communityÕs access to public policy positions, while they themselves met with an actual terrorist."
Saqr is the commander of the Guardians of the Cedar, one of the most feared of the right wing militias that operated during the Lebanese civil war, whose gunmen used to cut off the ears of Muslims and hang them from their gunbelts. (4) Robert Fisk, formerly the Middle East correspondent for the Times of London, dubbed Saqr "one of the cruelest villains to stalk civil war Beirut."
A Congressional Research Service report calls SaqrÕs group an "extremist Maronite militia and terrorist organization." (5) The U.S. State Department calls the Guardians "an extremist Christian group." (6) An official at the State Department told iviews.com he was "surprised a person like him was able to get a visa...he should be on our list of nasties."
Shortly after the massacre of Palestinian civilians by Lebanese Christian militiamen in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in September 1982, Israel's Foreign Ministry arranged for Saqr to speak at a news conference in Jerusalem. There he defended the killings, calling the Palestinians "the cancer" of Lebanon. "We have the full right to deal with our enemies in a manner we find suitable," Saqr said. "This is our internal problem, don't interfere in it." (7)
Speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals against his family, an expert on Lebanon at a U.S. Government Institution told iviews.com, "HeÕs a man who shared in the massacres of many innocent Muslim people. ItÕs an embarrassment for the Christians of Lebanon to be represented by a crook like that." Asked whether he considers Saqr a terrorist, he said, "By all means heÕs a terrorist, I have no doubt in my mind he is."
Saqr was shuttled around New York by an Israeli named Sir Moshe Barr Nea. Barr-Nea, once editor of New YorkÕs Jewish Post, identifies himself as International Coordinator of United Captive Nations-Free Middle East International, and a member of the Conference of National Jewish Organizations (CONJO). Walid Phares, President of the Miami-based World Lebanese Organization attended the meetings with Saqr. He describes Barr-Nea as "a pro-Zionist activist, very pro-Israel, very pro-Lebanese Christian."
"In New York [Saqr] met with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and then he met with another coalition of mostly nationalist Jewish organizations, to the right."
Barr-Nea brought Saqr and "Colonel" Sharbel Baraket, another Lebanese militiaman to the New York office of Human Rights Watch. They urged the rights group to intervene in what Barr-Nea characterized as an impending "extermination" of "about 80,000...Christians, men, women, and children, in South Lebanon" should the Israeli army withdraw, according to Human Rights Watch.
Baraket is the former deputy commander of the Southern Lebanese Army (IsraelÕs proxy militia in the area of South Lebanon it illegally occupies). The Independent of London reported in 1998 that Baraket was once the second-in-command of the "ruthless Lebanese renegade Major Saad Haddad, whose militiamen, operating in Israeli-occupied southern Lebanon, murdered two Irish UN soldiers in April 1980." (8)
Virginia Sherry, Associate Director of Human Rights WatchÕs Middle East and North Africa Division, listened to a presentation from the group. "A lot of what they talked about was not particularly credible and I challenged them on a number of things...like the way they characterized South Lebanon as mostly Christian, which itÕs not...it was just very strange," said Sherry.
Sherry continued: "What was disturbing was Barr-Nea came to this meeting accompanied by a woman who had a camera and they wanted to take pictures. I thought maybe what they were up to was to sort of be able to link them with us. We said at the start of the meaning there could be absolutely no photographs. There werenÕt, but the next day in Lebanon they had issued a press release saying they had met with us. The whole thing was very bizarre...they clearly wanted to score points."
Since the end of the Lebanese civil war, SaqrÕs Guardians of the Cedar have remade themselves as a political party. Their vision for Lebanon is laid out on the GuardiansÕ web site:
Among the numerous items involved in our contemplated renovation are the following...The resident foreigners, whose increasing number has developed into a cancerous invasion of our land, sovereignty and dignity...Ban all political parties that imported their ideologies and political programs from outside Lebanon...Abolish the law that entitles foreigners to buy and own land or property in Lebanon...Cutting down the number of foreigners in Lebanon...Confiscating the Palestinian properties... (9)
While in the United States, Saqr spoke at the World Lebanese OrganizationÕs (WLO) conference in Washington on June 27, 1998. WLO literature says it is "dedicated to human rights and de,mocracy for all people in the Middle East." (10) The groupÕs "Middle East Director" is Col. Sharbel Baraket (11)
Walid Phares, who founded the WLO and is now a professor at Florida Atlantic Universit,y left ,Leban,on for the United States in 1990. But during the Lebanese civil war he was himself a Christian militiaman. (12) Phares told iviews.com that he was in charge of foreign affairs for the Lebanese Front, the political directorate of the Lebanese Forces. The Lebanese Forces was an umbrella coalition of several right wing militias, including SaqrÕs Guardians of the Cedar and the Phalange, perpetrators of the Sabra and Shatila massacre. The current chairman of the Lebanese Front is Etienne Saqr. (13)
Asked about the atrocities attributed to Saqr, Phares replied, "Everybody did silly stuff, on both hands...but amazingly enough, the Guardians of the Cedars have been the most moral fighters."
The Jerusalem Post reported that Saqr is a "leading member" of the WLO, (14) but Phares denies this. "The WLO had a strong alliance with Saqr, not anymore though, because Saqr had been advocating extreme positions, asking the Israelis to intervene directly in Lebanese affairs," said Phares. Asked when the WLO cut off ties with Saqr, Phares replied, "No, thereÕs no cut-off, but I would say about six months ago, seven months ago."
But in June of this year, Phares joined Saqr, Baraket, and an Israeli professor at a symposium in Israel to do just what he says caused him to end his "strong alliance" with Saqr. (15) The four urged Israel to set up an independent Lebanese Christian "entity" in South
Lebanon, to be controlled by a "vastly expanded and strengthened [Lebanese Christian] militia." (16) The aim, they said, was to "revitalize ties with Israel at a time when there is a trend of loosening those bonds."
"If Israel leaves Lebanon, it has an obligation towards us, we have been faithful allies," Phares said at the symposium.
The meetings between Saqr, an American Israeli, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and right wing Jewish organizations suggest extensive ties between some American Jewish groups and militant Lebanese Christians. Phares wrote that his WLO has "built bridges with national Jewish organizations in the United States." (17)
In 1995, prominent right wing American Jewish activist Dr. Manfred Lehman held a press conference in Israel with Col. Sharbel Baraket to announce the formation of a coalition to combat what Lehman called "fundamentalist intrusions throughout the world." Baraket said the new group, called the Leadership Committee for a Free Middle East (LCFME), would fight for the "rights of all ethnic minorities in the region and the rights of the Jewish people in this land (Israel)." (18) Lehman, who died in 1997, was co-chairmen of the group, along with Walid Phares.
Lehman, also chairman of the World Committee for Israel, so despised the Middle East peace process that he regularly referred to IsraelÕs Labor Government as "Nazis" in his newspaper column. (19)
Members of the group headed by Lehman, Baraket, and Phares included leaders of the Zionist Organization of America, Likud America, Jewish Action Alliance, Leadership Conference for Israel, Jerusalem Reclamation Project, American Academic Alliance for Israel, and Americans for a Safe Israel. Like Lehman, many if not all of these strongly opposed the peace process.
Most American Jews would likely not identify with the groups who associate with the extremist Lebanese militias and their front groups. Norman Birnbaum, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times:
A majority of American Jews do not belong to the group,s represented by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations; they aren't even found in minor Jewish organizations. Yet this strident minority, uncannily like the Christian Coalition in its self-righteousness, claims to speak for all the rest of us. (20)
Asked to comment on right-wing Lebanese m,ilitias w,hose, representatives in the United States portray themselves as human rights groups, Sherry of Human Rights Watch said, "What needs to be done is closer scrutiny of groups that are calling for religious freedom when in fact, by looking closely at their own organizational documents, you see intolerant or exclusionary language thatÕs part of their means of operation."
The New-York based Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is a coalition of 55 member groups including the American Jewish Congress, Anti-Defamation League, and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
(1)Interview with Walid Phares of the World Lebanese Organization
(2)Azar, Edward E. The Emergence of a New Lebanon. p. 129. Also, on the Guardians of the Cedar web site, the militia lists as an accomplishment: "Actively sharing in the liberation of Tal el-Zaatar, Jisr el-Basha, Nabaa and Carantina Palestinian military (sic) camps, thus providing a clean terrain from any foreign presence."
(3)Randal, Jonathon C. Going All the Way: Christian Warlords, Israeli Adventurers, and the War in Lebanon. p 91.
(4)The Independent (London), July 18, 1992
(5)Creed, John. Congressional Research Service Report Lebanon 85-885-F July 31, 1985, appendix. Cited in