Jewish World Review Feb. 24, 2003 / 22 Adar I, 5763

Zev Chafets

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Prof's arrest will test Arab Americans' loyalty | "It's all about politics." That's what Sami Al-Arian said as he was led away in handcuffs on Thursday. Al-Arian is a Palestinian-American professor of computer science at the University of South Florida in Tampa. According to the federal government, he also has an extracurricular role as head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in North America.

A 50-count federal indictment charges Al-Arian and seven others - four of whom have skipped the country - with setting up a terrorist cell disguised as a think tank at the university. It further charges that Al-Arian tried to "obtain support from important individuals in the United States under the guise of promoting and protecting Arab rights."

The support Al-Arian sought, according to the government, was for a group that has killed more than 100 Israelis - and at least two Americans - in terror attacks.

Following Al-Arian's arrest, prominent Arab-American spokesmen expressed outrage - not at the professor's alleged activities, but at the Justice Department's nerve in prosecuting him. Omar Ahmed, national chairman of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he was "very concerned that the government would bring charges after investigating an individual for many years without offering any evidence of criminal activity."

This theory of law - that the government must prove its case in advance in order to bring it - is not likely to convince anyone. The Justice Department will make its case in the courtroom. If it succeeds, Al-Arian and his fellow defendants will go to prison for a very, very long time.

But not quietly. Prof. Al-Arian is a well-known activist, admired in the American progressive community despite (or perhaps because of) his call for "death to Israel" and his labors in that regard. Al-Arian also has been a featured speaker at recent peace rallies organized by ANSWER, the front group of the Stalinist Workers World Party. Some academics also regard him as a heroic fighter for free speech.

In short, Al-Arian is positioned to become a cause célèbre, both for the anti-war left and the Arab-American community. His lawyer has already proclaimed him a political prisoner. Free Sami and the Florida Four!

"This action could leave the impression that Al-Arian's arrest was based upon political considerations, not legitimate national security concerns," says the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Omar Ahmed.

And what political concerns might those be? Abdullah Ramadan Shallah, a university colleague of Al-Arian's before going to Damascus to assume command of Palestine Islamic Jihad (and who is, himself, under indictment) provided the explanation: "The Zionist lobby is fabricating the charges."

Of course! The Jews are behind this. Who else? Just like the attack on the World Trade Center. From the most primitive imams in the Saudi-funded mosques of America to the mainstream Arab-American organizations now lining up to defend Al-Arian, the Zionist cabal is an explanation for everything.

Even the urbane Palestinian-American Prof. Edward Said of Columbia University has fallen into the "Elders of Zion" mode. Last week he made a fool of himself and his university by (falsely) claiming White House spokesman Ari Fleischer is an Israeli. Coming next: the inside scoop on Attorney General John Ashcroft's bar mitzvah.

There are, presumably, Arabs in this country who are not sympathetic to Al-Arian's goals and methods. Who do not believe his arrest was ordered by the chief rabbi of Jerusalem. Who are not completely alienated from the mainstream values and institutions of America. Who do not want to be represented by spokesmen and organizations who are.

If so, this would be a good time for them to speak up. Otherwise, America's Muslim community is going to find itself cast as mute extras in a nasty courtroom drama staged by Al-Arian and his defense team on behalf of the Islamic Jihad's version of "politics."

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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