Last week I was invited to speak before a student audience at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, a city that is also the home of the Middle East Forum, co-founded by Daniel Pipes, one of the most extremist supporters of Israel and the very antithesis of brotherly love. I was sponsored by Penn's Middle East Center, an organization made up of multicultural students looking to be educated on peace and Middle East understanding. I felt nothing but honor to lend my point of view to their audience. Despite a few hecklers that were planted in the audience by an apparent anti-Palestine, anti-peace organization, I received a standing ovation from the crowd.
I regret that Daily Pennsylvanian columnist Gabriel Oppenheim, who attended the event and criticized my speech did not bother calling to check out his facts before declaring me a bigot. In his column, he raised a number of incendiary points.
One of them concerned our former board member, Abdurahman Alamoudi. When he joined the board of the Council for the National Interest, he was then acknowledged as one of the best spokesmen for Muslim Americans. The Department of State even used him on two major speaking tours. He had received high recognition from the State Department for his ability to communicate the issues of Muslims in America.
He was asked to leave the board as soon as he was convicted. We make no apologies for him being on our board, though CNI regrets the situation in which it was placed. But it should be noted that CNI has never been acquainted with his personal circumstances, and therefore the columnist's insinuation that CNI has links to terrorism is completely absurd.
He also accused the organization of being funded by Saudi Arabia. Our tax records are a matter of public knowledge, and they clearly show the amount of money we received and where it is allocated.
The columnist objected to my having interviewed Hamas and Hezbollah leaders. This was part of a trip CNI sponsored to allow Americans to become acquainted with the major political players in the Middle East. In fact, the day before we had also met with Shimon Peres.
I feel that his comments were unbalanced and totally taken out of context. At one point he says that I blamed Israel for Sept. 11, although my comment was part of my explanation of the shock I felt when we learned that many of the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 tragedy were Saudis, with whom I spent a great deal of time in the course of a 30-year career in the area.
Israel cannot be singled out for the seemingly endless upheaval in the Middle East, but its contribution to prolonging the misery of many in the region cannot be ignored, especially since it undermines the security of itself in the Middle East as well as American interests in the Middle East.