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Diversity's limits?

An Islamic organization's exhibit that denied the existence of Israel has forced a change in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's annual Community Day.

The annual event, held outside the agency's office in Crystal City, is designed to "celebrate ... diversity." The theme of this year's day, held Aug. 1, was "Coming Together." Office working groups set up exhibits of their projects. Various ethnic and religious groups also had booths at the event.

But not everyone seemed to understand the day's spirit.

A number of PTO employees who did not wish to be identified were angry and upset after viewing an exhibit by a group of Muslim PTO employees. It included a world map in which those countries with Muslim populations of less than 1 percent were colored in red and those nations whose populations exceed 50 percent were colored in green. Israel was colored green but was not identified as Israel, even though the employees said it appeared every other country on the map was identified.

One employee pointed to Israel and asked the woman running the booth what the name of the country was. She at first did not give an answer, then responded, "It's controversial."

The PTO's office of civil rights investigated the incident and has found that the omission of Israel from the map "appeared to be intentional," according to Brigid Quinn, an agency spokesperson.

Quinn said the group was told that the map was "totally inappropriate" and "wrong." The PTO, Quinn said, "does not condone" the group's actions.

The office also announced that in the future, exhibits will be screened in advance so that they "appropriately express the spirit of inclusion and diversity that Community Day is meant to highlight."

Some of the upset PTO employees say they are happy that their office has taken some action in response to the incident to make sure it will not be repeated in the future. They also said they will be paying special attention to the group's exhibit next year.

Wilson's divisive history

The minister who is challenging D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams with his own write-in campaign for the job has been a target of criticism by the Washington Jewish community for a number of past statements and actions.

In late 1999, local Jewish leaders criticized Williams for nominating Rev. Willie Wilson, pastor of the Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia, to the University of the District of Columbia board of trustees, noting Wilson's racially divisive past.

Wilson has appeared on stage in the past with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, and in 1989 he sponsored an unsuccessful recall effort against three D.C. Council members who withheld support from a resolution praising Farrakhan's anti-drug work in D.C.

He also led a black boycott of a Chinese restaurant after the restaurant's owner pulled a gun on a black customer. Wilson said at the time, "We forgave Mr. Chan. If we didn't forgive him, we would have cut his head off and rolled it down the street."

In the 1990s, Wilson referred to then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and two representatives on the congressional committee overseeing the District as the "Ku, Klux and Klan."

AIPAC dismayed

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee says it is "disappointed" that President George W. Bush has decided not to approve the portion of a $28.9 supplemental aid package that includes $200 million in aid to Israel, but welcomes the president's commitment to continue to work with Congress to secure the funding.

Bush decided not to approve a $5.1 billion portion of the package because Congress did not show "spending restraint," but said Tuesday that "truly pressing needs and priorities, such as AIDS prevention and resources for the Middle East, we'll send to Congress specific amendments to get these funds quickly."

"Given President Bush's understanding of Israel's contributions to the war on terror and the Congress' support for additional aid to Israel, AIPAC believes that both branches of government should move expeditiously to find a way to provide this needed $200 million for Israel's anti-terror efforts," AIPAC chair Tim Wuliger and executive director Howard Kohr said in a statement.

National Jewish Democratic Council executive director Ira Forman was less optimistic. He said Bush's decision "unfortunately sends the wrong message at the wrong time to Israel's enemies around the world."

Entry denied

U.S. congressional staffers who were sponsored by Jewish and Muslim groups were detained as they tried to enter Israel last week. The staffers, from six congressional offices, were questioned and ultimately allowed through, but representatives from American Muslims for Jerusalem and Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel were denied entry. The groups were waiting in Jordan while they tried to persuade American officials to intervene.

Josh Ruebner, co-founder of JPPI, said he was not told why the groups were denied entry to Israel. He added that American and Israeli officials had assured him the delegation would be treated with respect. An official at the Israeli Consulate in New York said Israeli law allows the barring of groups whose intent is to demonstrate and disrupt public security.

Holy Land suit quashed

A U.S. court dismissed a lawsuit from a Muslim charity whose assets were frozen over its alleged ties to Hamas. The Holy Land Foundation, whose assets were frozen by the U.S. Treasury, denies any involvement with the Palestinian terrorist group.

But the court ruled that the foundation funded Hamas, its leaders had been "actively" involved in meetings with Hamas leaders and its Jerusalem office acted on behalf of Hamas.

-- by Eric Fingerhut, with reports by JTA

This story was published in the WashingtonJewishWeek
on: Thursday, August 15, 2002








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