David Bedein, donned in a knit kippah and trademark broad smile – clearly enjoys sharing that he defies stereotypes.
“It’s not many people who say to their wife on the phone when she asks, ‘Where are you and when are you coming home for dinner?’ ‘I’m with Arafat in Bethlehem.’ You don’t hear that often from people who live in Efrat [on the West Bank],” he told about 30 people during a lecture at Shomrei Emunah Congregation August 4.
So it goes as Mr. Bedein, 54, shares colorful stories, matched by his enthusiasm and relentless energy to share his information.
He directs the Israel Resource News Agency, which he co-founded in 1987 “to give out information that doesn’t appear in the mainstream media.” The operation employs independent Palestinian journalists and Arabic-speaking Israelis to monitor what the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat say and do.
One of Mr. Bedein’s prime causes now is revealing what he considers the U.S. State Department’s hypocritical policy in promoting renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks.
“There’s a lot you can do to protect Israel from the State Department – not the U.S. government, because that would be arrogant and wrong,” Mr. Bedein said in an interview before his talk. “The State Department has done things that do not reflect the policy of the U.S. government, and they’re doing it to a friend.”
For example, he said that the U.S. Agency for International Development, with the State Department’s blessing, is paying for a booklet that trains Palestinians to lobby on Capitol Hill.
“First, it’s immoral and second, it’s illegal,” Mr. Bedein said. He added that the State Department recently gave $20 million to UNRWA, the United Nations operation in charge of Palestinian refugee camps, “which is being used for the right of return, a specific educational program in the refugee camps. President Bush has said that right of return no longer applies.”
Later he said, “The State Department has become a rogue operation for 20 years. Any time any of us in the world of journalism meet with Congress people and ask questions and say things matter-of-factly and state what is the State Department doing over there, they’re shocked.”
When told that it seemed hard to believe that with diverse administrations the State Department would be anti-Israel, Mr. Bedein said that the information speaks for itself. He also noted his frustration at State Department and White House officials not returning his calls.
In his talk, he said, “You are American people, American citizens, taxpayers. There is an accountability factor. Getting away with murder has been what the Palestinian Authority has been getting away with for years.”
All this seems to put Mr. Bedein in Israel’s right-wing camp. Not so, he quickly explained in the interview.
“I come from the world of Reconstructionism and interfaith dialogue,” said Mr. Bedein, a Philadelphia native. “I was the first to uncover arbitrary home demolitions of the Arabs. I was active in the peace movement for 17 years and people forget that. People say the peace movement was territories for peace and I say no territories before peace.”
He arrived in Israel 34 years ago as a Hebrew University of Jerusalem student. He dropped out to study Torah at the interdenominational Pardes Institute. He became Orthodox and gained a social worker’s degree.
He still believes in talking to a wide array of people. Before arriving in Baltimore, he spent some time at the Conservative movement’s Camp Ramah in New England, where his oldest of six children is a counselor this summer.
He also met with a Reform group and spoke to Christian groups, including one he will not name whose leaders he said have been anti- Israel.
“I met Arafat for a few hours in 1996. Right wingers don’t go to meet with Arafat,” he said. “The day I opened my press office, I said I’ll never be involved in political activity. You can label me if you want. It’s one thing to hear the mellifluous tones of peace. In the one long interview I had with Arafat, he kept talking about peace and I kept asking what he was saying in Arabic to his own people. He kept avoiding it, and finally he said, ‘I speak peace to them, too.’ And I said, ‘I have no record of that, sir.’
“You can’t make an accord with people who are setting up a totalitarian Islamic state,” he added. “[The P.A. is] the first entity since Nazi Germany to openly discuss war on the Jews, and it’s being supported by the Western democracies.”