National Arab Association Reached out to Jews at Annual Conference

The 15th annual policy conference of the National Association of Arab Americans (NAAA), held here this week, attempted for the first time to reach out to the Jewish community.

Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R. NY) attended the NAAA keynote dinner, and co-hosted a farewell reception for the group along with Rep. Stephen Solarz (D. NY) and their House colleagues of Arab descent — Mary Rose Oakar (D. Ohio) and Nick Rahall (D. W.Va.).

“I think we have a responsibility to continually make an effort to build bridges between Israel and the Arabs,” Gilman, ranking Republican of the House Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

NAAA Executive Director David Sadd said he found nothing unusual about Gilman’s support. “You’re making a presumption that it’s not supportive of Israel to be working with us,” Sadd told the JTA. “If he (Gilman) wants to work with us on Iraq, it has nothing to do with his support of Israel.”

TO WORK WITH AMERICAN JEWS

Sadd said there was a strong interest expressed by the NAAA Executive Board to work with American Jews. Invitations to the policy conference were sent out to all the major Jewish groups, although only a handful attended, including Hyman Bookbinder of the American Jewish Committee and journalist I.F. Stone.

The NAAA’s luncheon on “prospects for peace” featured a Jewish Israeli, MK Col. Ran Cohen of the Citizen’s Rights Party.

Israeli Arabs were represented by a moderate — Knesset Member Abdulwahab Darawshe of the Labor Party. There was a deliberate absence of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) speakers on the agenda.

“There are impediments, as a practical way manner, put in the way by those who attempt to block peace. We want to allow credible viewpoints all the way around,” Sadd explained.

But the NAAA unequivocally endorses the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people, and the head of the PLO Information Office, Hasan Rahman, addressed the group briefly.

The NAAA is also fiercely lobbying against legislation recently introduced in Congress to close the PLO offices in the U.S. “This is a point we in the NAAA have to fight,” outgoing NAAA President Peter Tanous said.

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