U.S. Jews try to strip Arafat of Nobel Prize


NEW YORK, Aug. 8 (JTA) — Frustrated by what they consider Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s renewed embrace of violence, a group of young American Jewish professionals has launched an Internet petition to revoke Arafat’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Located at www.revoketheprize.org, the petition asks “all people of morality and good faith to stand up and express their anger and disappointment in Mr. Arafat by calling for the revocation of his Nobel Peace Prize.”

One of the organizers, Mark Semer, said the petition, which has been up since the end of June, has almost 10,000 signatures.

“We believe that the peace prize gives Arafat legitimacy as a peacemaker that he does not deserve,” Semer said, adding that the site is not affiliated with any political organization or religious denomination.

The desire to strip Arafat of his Nobel was born almost as soon as he received it.

Together with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Arafat received the peace prize in December 1994, a year after he agreed to renounce decades of violent opposition to the State of Israel and resolve Israeli-Palestinian differences peacefully.

The decision to reward Arafat was harshly criticized in the Jewish community — and beyond. One member of the Nobel prize committee even resigned in protest.

Americans for Peace Now was one of the few groups in the Jewish world to back Arafat’s prize in 1994. Lewis Roth, the group’s assistant executive director, called the new petition — and similar attempts to discredit Arafat since the Palestinian uprising began last September — “unproductive.”

“Problematic though he is, he is still the only address that Israel has to pursue negotiations,” Roth said.

But one long-standing Arafat critic, Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein, backs the drive.

“It is a perpetual stain on the Nobel Peace Prize until he is removed from the list of peace prize winners,” Klein said.

It’s not clear what practical effect the petition could have.

Semer, a New York public relations consultant, is hopeful that the Nobel Commission will be compelled at least to consider the proposal if the petition reaches a “critical mass.”

Arafat is not the only one of the 1994 winners to come in for criticism.

Last spring, shortly after Labor Party leader Peres agreed to serve as foreign minister in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unity government, an Israeli Arab lawmaker said his Nobel should be revoked.

Sharon is reviled in the Arab world for his role in the 1982 massacre of Palestinians by Lebanese Christians at two refugee camps in Lebanon. An Israeli inquiry commission found Sharon indirectly responsible because, as defense minister, he failed to foresee and prevent the killing.

“The sooner both sides can get past the name calling and finger pointing, the sooner there will be improvements” for both Israelis and Palestinians, Roth said.

Semer maintains that his primary goal is peace — but his current concern is the welfare of the Jewish people.

“Right now there’s a great deal of pain and suffering in Israel,” Semer said. The petition “is something that, as American Jews, we believe is a constructive effort in support of the state — in support of Israel.”

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