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Jewish Groups Register Concern About Harassment of Arabs in U.S.

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At least two American Jewish organizations have voiced concern about harassment of Arab-Americans stemming from the conflict in the Persian Gulf.

Since the start of the Gulf crisis five months ago, Arab-Americans say they have been subjected to discrimination on the basis of their ethnic and religious backgrounds. Some have encountered merely greater mistrust, while others have been threatened or physically attacked.

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait led to a rise in anti-Arab sentiment here, which translated into a large jump in the number of hate crimes against Arab-Americans, according to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, or ADC.

The ADC has also expressed fear that recent interviews of Arab-Americans by the Federal Bureau of Investigation work to promote the misconception that Arabs are anti-American.

FBI agents have been conducting interviews with Arab-American leaders as part of its domestic anti-terrorist campaign. But the interviews, which concentrate on racist attacks against Arab-Americans, also include questions about personal and political views, say ADC officials and those who have been interviewed.

Such questions, they believe, unfairly question the loyalty of Arab-Americans.

The American Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee have joined the ADC in issuing statements questioning the interviews.

The interviews, which took place in the wake of threats that Iraqi terrorists might attack U.S. sites, brought up old fears of dual loyalty and the worst excesses of U.S. policy during World War II, when Japanese-Americans were interned in camps for the duration of the war.

‘A DANGER TO ALL GROUPS’

“This could happen again,” David Harris, AJCommittee’s executive vice president, said in a statement issued Jan. 11.

“It must not. Necessary actions taken by our law enforcement authorities to protect U.S. security must at the same time be protective of the civil rights and liberties of Arab-Americans.”

AJCongress has called upon FBI officials to exercise “sensitivity and respect” as they carry out their interviews, and in a letter urged the FBI director to ensure the interviews were in fact essential to prevent terrorist attacks.

“We recognize, as a minority community, that when the federal government steps in and starts identifying minority communities it raises grave concerns,” said Mark Pelavin, the group’s Washington representative.

Overall, the ADC has catalogued 72 incidents of racist behavior and violent attacks against Arab-Americans, ranging from negative portrayals in the media to bomb threats. Many of the incidents are reminiscent of hate crimes against Jews.

Kenneth Stern, an AJCommittee specialist on anti-Semitism and extremism, said discrimination against Arab-Americans is something that has to be monitored during the Gulf war, as “times of great stress” lead to minority targeting.

“I think it’s important for everyone concerned with pluralism and what it means to live in a multicultural society to speak out about this,” he said, “because when one minority group is picked out it is a danger to all groups.”

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