On December 10, the Boston chapters of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Boston Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) sponsored Sari Nusseibeh, the Chancellor of Jerusalem’s Al Quds University and member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s inner circle, at a luncheon attended by more than 120 people. The reason for the luncheon as explained by Nancy Kaufman of the JCRC as quoted in Boston’s Jewish Advocate, was to provide “the community with the opportunity to hear from him about his expectations in a post-Arafat era and to challenge him about some of the accusations that have been made against him over the years.”

There is much to say about what Jewish communal organizations should and should not be involved in as there is to say about who Sari Nusseibeh is, but we’ll confine ourselves to one key remark he made during his presentation, which was a focal point of the argument made against his being invited to appear before this audience.

He was asked to explain his remark and he did. But he is on record as having addressed the same topic elsewhere, where he gave a different answer.

For what was said at the meeting we depend on a Jewish Advocate article distributed through the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) dated December 20.

For the translation of a presentation he made on Al-Jazeera, the Arab broadcaster, we use published reports from MEMRI. MEMRI’s work is used by almost all western media outlets. Their site is readily available and their bonafides easily checked. They are extremely dependable and are meticulous in their translations (www.memri.org). [The Jewish Ledger subscribes to JTA and has contributed to MEMRI, which is a 501(c)(3).]

The incident and statements in question came out of an interview with Sari Nusseibeh on Al-Jazeera television. He appeared on a program with the mother of a suicide bomber who had murdered five teenage Israelis while they studied at a yeshiva.

The mother, Umm Nidal, had just expressed her pride in her son’s act. All accounts agree up to this point and what the mother said is not at issue. Those who objected to Nusseibeh’s appearance said that Nusseibeh then praised the mother. When asked about this at the Boston meeting he replied as follows:

“I wanted to push away from viewer’s minds the emotion of the mother. At that point I said, ‘I grieve with mothers, but that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to see whether suicide killings should be supported.’ I wanted to draw the audience into a frame where I could show why I’m right and suicide attacks are wrong.”

MEMRI goes to the tape of the Al-Jazeera broadcast and translates the same conversation as follows: Referring to Umm Nidal’s pride in and justification of her son’s martyrdom, Professor Nusseibah glorified her, saying: “When I hear the words of Umm Nidal, I recall the [Koranic] verse stating that ‘Paradise lies under the feet of mothers.’ [1] All respect is due to this mother, it is due to every Palestinian mother and every female Palestinian who is a Jihad fighter on this land. I do not wish to mix political statements and political commentary with the respect every Palestinian feels for every Jihad fighter and for anyone who truly thinks that there is no life under the occupation, except in freedom and dignity.” [2]

In the event one feels that this quote is taken out of context, MEMRI publishes more of that interview on their site and also references other Nusseibeh statements where he addresses the same subject. If what he said previously was what he really felt, it is clear to any reader that he was not forthright in his Boston presentation. Anyone who bothered to do the research on this man beforehand would have found that this was not an isolated incident and that Mr. Nusseibeh plays with the facts loosely on a regular basis.

A correspondent of ours in Israel, David Bedein, sent an associate to hear Nusseibeh at a conference in Herzilya the week after his December 10 presentation in Boston.

The following exchange took place: At the meeting Nusseibeh called on Palestinians to forgo their “right of return” and to eschew “the path of violence.” Bedein’s reporter then asked him after the meeting if what he said to this audience in English was something he would repeat to a Palestinian audience in Arabic.

Specifically, would he say the same thing on the Voice of Palestine, the official media outlet of the Palestinian Authority.

His answer: “Yes, I’ve been speaking…its very well known, my position is very well known…Yes my… my… my position…my position among the Palestinians and the Arab world at large is very well known: it is very clear. I write it. My plan is clear. I say what I say….” And then Nusseibeh broke off the interview and walked away.

It’s a question he should have been asked in Boston too. Before he was invited there.

Footnote 1: This is not a Koranic verse, but a Hadith (tradition ascribed to Muhammad), about mothers being the highest beings, such that even Paradise is beneath their feet.

Footnote 2: Al-Jazeera television (Qatar), June 29, 2002.

This editorial ran in the Jewish Ledger of Connecticut on December 24th, 2004