Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, under fire from conservatives for recent remarks in Jerusalem that disparaged the president and his supporters, has a history of cozying up to radical Muslims who oppose peaceful coexistence with Israel.

Speaking to Israeli and Palestinian “peace activists” in Jerusalem on May 4, Burns reassured them that “common sense” would prevail over the views of the President George W. Bush’s Christian and conservative supporters, many of whom insist that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel’s right to exist and stop homicide bombings against civilians before the United States pressures Israel to accept a Palestinian state on its territory.

Burns’ comments, former White House domestic-policy chief Gary Bauer tells Insight, “showed incredible disdain for the president and his most loyal supporters, and demonstrated that this is not George Bush’s State Department. He should be fired.”

On Monday, Bauer sent a letter to the president that was signed by 22 Jewish and evangelical Christian leaders, urging him to recognize there can be “no viable peace unless Israel’s neighbors concede its right to exist.” The letter cited “Nazi-inspired hatred of Jews” in Palestinian schools and ongoing terrorist attacks as unmistakable signs of Palestinian rejection of Israel.

While not named in the letter, top State Department Arabist Burns has been taking it on the chin from nationally broadcast conservative talk-show host Marlin Maddoux, a signatory of the letter, and Washington Times publisher Wesley Pruden, who wrote on Tuesday that the president needed to “rein in ‘the Arabist cabal’ at the State Department that is forever pressing the Israelis to kill themselves on behalf of peace.”

But it could get much worse for Burns. As the Clinton administration’s ambassador to Jordan for three years, Burns apologized on behalf of the United States to a top Jordanian Islamist who was barred from entering the United States because of his ties to known terrorists.

According to the New York Times, Burns personally telephoned Islamic Action Front leader Ishaq Farhan to “express his concern” after the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport barred Farhan from entering the United States on May 3, 2000, because he was on the terrorist watch list. Farhan had to purchase a $2,000 one-way ticket back to Jordan when the INS ordered him to return to Amman on the first available flight.

The Times article added that “American diplomats in Jordan said they were unaware of information that would merit interrogating or deporting Mr. Farhan, whom they consider an important moderating force.”

What the Times failed to report was that Farhan’s U.S. visa had been revoked by the State Department, after it had received information from the INS detailing Farhan’s ties to Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization that has murdered hundreds of Israelis and more than a dozen Americans in suicide bombings during the last eight years.

Farhan headed the “consultative council” of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the radical, anti-Western Muslim Brotherhood that has spawned Osama bin Laden, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In Jordan, the IAF is a recognized political party despite its open sympathy for international terrorist groups.

“This story, which I was not aware of until now, shows that Mr. Burns does not understand the nature of the enemy the United States and Israel is facing,” American Values President Bauer tells Insight. “What a comment it is on the man’s judgment.”

Two days after Burns apologized to him, Farhan told UPI that the U.S. Embassy in Jordan had told him he would receive a new, permanent U.S. visa.

Farhan added that a U.S. journalist who “regards himself as an expert on terrorism” had been responsible for the treatment he had received at JFK. He claimed that the journalist had submitted a report to the State Department and to a House of Representatives subcommittee listing him as an “Islamic terrorist militant.” Farhan appears to have been referring to terrorism expert Stephen Emerson, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Government Information on February 24, 1998, on the subject of foreign terrorists in America.

Among the most notorious foreign terrorists regularly admitted to the United States, Emerson told the Senate panel under oath, was Farhan, who in 1991 “gave a pep talk to 25 handpicked Hamas recruits in Chicago, and a few years earlier collaborated with Jordanian-based Islamist Yusuf al-Azm on gunrunning for Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin.” Farhan also was a regular speaker at the annual conference of the Islamic Association for Palestine, a Hamas front group in the United States that has been closed down by the FBI, Emerson added in his testimony.

“Burns arranged for an official of an organization that was calling for jihad on America to come to this country. He should have been held accountable then, and he should be held accountable now,” Emerson tells Insight.

In his recent encounter at the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem with left-wing Israelis and Cabinet ministers of the Palestinian Authority, Burns said that President Bush was determined to move ahead with his “road map” for Middle East peace, despite opposition from his own supporters. According to minutes of the meeting released by the left-wing “Peace Now” group to the Jerusalem Post, Labor Party Knesset (Israeli Parliament) member Colette Avital alleged that conservatives, Christians and the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee “are lobbying to torpedo the road map.” On behalf of the “peace coalition,” she asked Burns for help “to express our views to the American public.”

In reply, Burns stated his view that “the common sense of all peoples will override the conservative and Christian viewpoints once they see the road map’s potential.”

The State Department Near East bureau did not return Insight’s calls for comment on this story.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight.
Published at on their May 27, 2003 issue