- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

COLORADO SPRINGS — For years, Hanan Ashrawi put a polished, English-speaking face on the Palestine Liberation Organization as Yasser Arafat's spokeswoman and adviser. But her selection as the first keynote speaker for a college symposium on the September 11 terrorist attack has touched off an outcry beyond this conservative military town and placed its new president, a former Clinton administration diplomat, on the hot seat.
Critics charge that Colorado College's choice of Mrs. Ashrawi to deliver the first keynote address at its Sept. 12-14 conference, "September 11: One Year Later," is offensive and even "grotesque."
They cite her history as a Palestinian Authority official, an Arafat adviser, the behavior of the Palestinians on September 11 and her own statements on terrorist bombings in Israel.
"The flap isn't over her speaking. It's that she's being honored as the keynote speaker at the opening of a conference when the Palestinians were dancing in the street after September 11," said Mike Rosen, a popular conservative Denver radio talk-show host. "It would be like honoring the mouthpiece for the Japanese emperor on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor."
Rabbi Bruce Dollin, leader of the Hebrew Educational Alliance in Denver, plans to hold a protest at the event with the support of Jewish and Christian groups.
In fliers titled, "It's Time to Speak Out," he encourages his members of his congregation to call the college, along with its alumni and donors, with their objections.
College President Richard F. Celeste, a former Ohio governor and ambassador to India during the Clinton administration, has defended the college's choice of speaker, saying the invitation was intended to "provoke critical and engaged thought," not endorse her views.
Mr. Celeste pointed out that a second keynote address will be delivered the next day by Gideon Doron, president of the Israeli Political Science Association, who is expected to respond to Mrs. Ashrawi's speech.
"In a real sense, the more contested and heated the argument, the more important it is that places like CC let contending sides be heard," said Mr. Celeste in an Aug. 15 newspaper article. He took over as president in July after symposium plans had been finalized.
The college has received "about a dozen" calls and e-mails each day, college spokeswoman Lisa Ellis says, since the Rocky Mountain News published an Aug. 13 editorial, "A propagandist comes to Colorado College."
The uproar is the latest example of universities coming under fire for what critics describe as an anti-Israel, pro-Arab tilt since the attacks.
Earlier this month, for example, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill required incoming freshmen and transfer students to read a book about the Koran and answer questions as their summer reading assignment.
In the Colorado College case, critics say the problem isn't balance, it's taste.
"Colorado College has every right to invite any speaker they want," said Colorado Senate Minority Leader John Andrews. "But when they have a conference that reflects on the world after the September 11 terrorist attack, and when their best-known speaker has a history of excusing terrorism on the Palestinian side and is an enemy sympathizer in the war on terrorism, it's offensive."
A former English professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank, Mrs Ashrawi first emerged on the international stage when she served as a Palestinian spokeswoman during the 1988 intifada in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
She has held various posts with the Palestinian Authority before resigning recently in protest over official corruption issues.
Her admirers describe her as an invaluable voice of moderation who has spoken out against Middle East violence. Her detractors say she excuses or explains away any behavior by Palestinians, no matter how barbaric.
Mrs. Ashrawi has consistently blamed the Israeli presence in the West Bank for creating suicide bombers. In an April speech in Idaho, she said President Bush had "turned the very highest office in the United States into a transparent and cheap propaganda machine for Israel."
She frequently calls Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a terrorist and a war criminal. She has called Israeli civilian settlers on the West Bank "legitimate and select targets of Palestinian resistance."
Mrs. Ashrawi also has referred to the lack of democracy in the Arab world as the result of "the insecurity and vulnerability of the region caused by Israel."
In June, she won praise at first for signing a published appeal that appeared to call for an end to violence. But it did not explicitly mention suicide bombings that deliberately kill as many Israeli civilians as possible, instead referring to "military operations that target civilians in Israel."
The phrase "in Israel," her detractors have pointed out does not include the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and sections of Jerusalem.
Miss Ellis said the college will hold a September 11 memorial service on the anniversary date, but that the symposium, despite the title "September 11: One Year Later," was timed to coincide with the college's first block, not the anniversary. Colorado College is known for its "block plan," in which students take just one class at a time.
Colorado College officials noted that the symposium also includes panels on American foreign policy, women's rights and poverty, and the causes of war.
"It's a diverse, exciting group," Mr. Celeste said.
But critics asked why a symposium focused on the world after September 11 would highlight through its keynote speeches the Israeli-Palestinian conflict instead of terrorism.
"It's unfortunate that Colorado College is interpreting the world after 9/11 as mainly about the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis," Mr. Andrews said.
"It represents an effort to change the subject away from 'Who are these terrorists?' and make it all about the supposed injustices against the Palestinians," he said.
Mrs. Ashrawi has been hot and cold over the links between the Palestinians and terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, saying that the Palestinians are "not a cause that's up for grabs We have never had anything to do with bin Laden."
But she also told a high school audience in Portland, Ore., that "the United States has been paying the price for Israel's behavior" and that "solving the Palestinian question will deprive extremists of a convenient" rationalization for terrorist attacks.
On September 11, Palestinians fired rifles into the air and passed out candies to children upon hearing of the attacks. Then PLO threatened news organizations photographing or filming the celebrations, saying they could not guarantee their employees' safety if such photos were published.

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