NEW YORK (Mar. 2)
A concerted effort by the Palestine Liberation Organization to entice Christian clergymen in the United States to visit Lebanon, with all expenses paid for by the PLO, has sparked a bitter controversy between conservative fundamentalist Christian leaders who are opposed to the PLO ploy and liberal ministers who appear to be taking the bait.
At the some time, leaders of major Jewish organizations have assailed liberal ministers who have already visited Lebanon under the auspices of the PLO and have expressed concern that such visits would tend to legitimize the terrorist organization and lend credence to its anti-Israel and anti-Zionist propaganda.
PRAISE FOR ARAFAT
The controversy erupted last month when five Seattle ministers went to Lebanon at the invitation of the PLO and returned with praise for the Palestinian cause. The ministers said they recoiled at the violence in Lebanon, where the PLO has bases, but were touched by what they heard during their meeting with PLO chief Yasir Arafat.
The Rev. Richard Younge, of the Campus Christian Ministry, said upon his return from Lebanon: “The Palestinians are now trying to achieve by political means what they failed to achieve by military means. I think we ought to encourage that.”
Rev. Rodney Romney, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Seattle, commented that Arafat impressed him as a “magnetic leader with an electrifying personality.” He said, “I can’t think of any time I’ve met anyone so completely dedicated to a cause.” He added: “I feel a strong sense of commitment to work any way I can for the cause of justice for the Palestinian people.”
Rev. William Cate, head of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, said the trip confirmed his suspicions that the American news media isn’t telling the whole story of the Mideast war. “We have seen the other side of the story, ” he said. “If there is going to be a solution, this story has to be considered.” The ministers agreed that the Palestinians need a homeland, and that homeland should be on the West Bank.
FUNDAMENTALISTS BLAST MINISTERS
These ministers and the others who took the trip were blasted by eight fundamentalist Christian leaders who described the PLO as “the world’s most ruthless terrorist band.” Douglas Shearer, a painting contractor from Sacramento, Calif., who belongs to TAV Evangelical Ministries, a Sacramento-based pro-Israeli Christian group, said: “We want the Seattle area to understand that these five Christian ministers (who went to Lebanon) do not represent the views of Seattle area Christians.”
The Rev. Dwight Kinman, a Tacoma hospital chaplain, said Christians all over the world should support Israel. Douglas Krieger of TAV Evangelical Ministries, declared; “God’s plan is for Israel to exist as a nation.” Shearer stated that peace was not possible in the Middle East “until the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and recognizes Israel as an entity.”
In support of their stand, TAV Evangelical Ministries last month purchased a large advertisement in The Seattle Times with a long list of endorsers, many of them leading evangelical clergymen from California to British Columbia in Canada. The ad, which noted that the story of the PLO-financed trip was broken in the Seattle Post intelligencer by reporter Eric Nalder, stated, in part.
“We Evangelical Christians do NOT condemn the trip itself. Certainly, the clergymen can justifiably lay claim to a right and perhaps even a moral obligation to independently ascertain the veracity of the accusations. However, we find unconscionable the use of PLO funds … We deeply regret the obvious imputation of Christian legitimacy to one of the world’s most ruthless and unprincipled terrorist bands. We protest against on almost complete lock of discretion–a crude insensitivity which has joined the name of the Prince of Peace to brutality, cowardice, and implacable cruelty.”
TRIP ASSAILED BY JEWISH LEADERS
The PLO-sponsored trip was also assailed by spokesmen for Seattle area Jewish organizations. Dr. Michael Schuffler, chairman of the Federation’s Community Relations Committee, said: “This trip by a group of Christian clergymen is immoral. Money for the trip (was) provided by a bunch of murderers.”
Dr. Arthur Abramson, director of the Seattle chapter of the American Jewish Committee, stated: “That Christian ministers of the Gospel, committed to peace and reconciliation, could take a trip sponsored and paid for by a group committed to the destruction of innocent civilians, both Christians and Jews, is inconceivable.” He noted that the trip “cannot avoid helping legitimize” the PLO and plays “into the hands of both America’s and Israel’s enemies.”
David Stahl, director of the Northwest Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, said: “It is difficult for me to comprehend how individuals who are taken on a PLO financially-sponsored trip and only offered a select diet of interviews and experiences can return with a clear understanding of the multifaceted conflict” in Lebanon. He also said he was disturbed by the “gentle” way the ministers described Arafat on their return.
BACKGROUND OF THE TRIP
In his pastoral letter to his congregation, Romney described the trip to Lebanon as a venture “financed by the Institute for Palestinian Studies and the Palestine Research Center in Beirut.” He did not mention the PLO connection.
The Palestine Research Center is a PLO-sponsored organization, headed by top PLO leaders, according to Hisham Sharabi, editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies in Washington, D.C. The Institute for Palestinian Studies is an independent organization financed by the Kuwaiti government and some wealthy Lebanese, Nalder reported in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
According to Nalder, the trip was arranged locally “by two U.S. citizens who were born in the Middle East. Fawzi Khoury, a Lebanese-born Christian who runs the Near Eastern library at the University of Washington, got the ball rolling when he suggested to a brother living in France that a tour would be a good idea.”
The other organizer, Nalder reported, was Farhat Ziadeh, a Palestinian who was born on the West Bank and is now chairman of the University of Washington’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literature.
Khoury and Ziadeh, who are not members of the PLO, Nalder said, claimed they didn’t know anything about the PLO connection, but Khoury said airline tickets were provided by the Palestine Research Center and the Institute for Palestinian Studies.