- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2003

RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA, Calif. (AP) — Parents were excited when a $15,000 pledge that would enable them to keep class sizes down at their children’s elementary school came in from halfway around the world. But now they are wondering whether to return the money.

They began having second thoughts after learning that the donor — Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates — has ties to a think tank that critics say promotes anti-American and anti-Semitic views.

“We want to answer the question: Who is the sheik?” said Kathy Druian, a parent fund-raiser at Los Flores Elementary School in Orange County.

Harvard Divinity School in Boston is asking the same thing. The school is having second thoughts about the $2.5 million Mr. Zayed gave a few years ago to endow a professorship in Islamic religious studies.

The answer is that Mr. Zayed has many roles.

He is regarded by some as the George Washington of the UAE, leading a Persian Gulf state founded in 1971 that is awash in oil money and has backed the U.S. war on terror, hosting at least 1,200 American troops.

He also is an outspoken critic of Israeli policies and donates millions to Palestinian causes.

And he is a generous contributor to other causes as well, using his $23 billion in personal wealth and a $1 billion foundation to aid refugees in Africa, farmers in Britain and scores of other groups. In 2000, he donated $30,000 to an Ohio elementary school after two boys there sent him get-well cards while he recovered from a broken hip. The school accepted the money.

He made a pledge to Los Flores in June after hearing about the school’s fund-raising campaign through a student’s grandmother who was visiting the UAE.

Parents planned to use most of the money to retain two third-grade teachers who were laid off because of budget cuts.

Then came word of the sheik’s ties to the Zayed International Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up, an Abu Dhabi-based think tank named in his honor that promotes Arab unity and has hosted such speakers as Al Gore and former Secretary of State James A Baker III.

Critics accuse the center of also sponsoring speakers and issuing reports that disparage Jews and support anti-American conspiracy theories.

“I don’t know if the sheik is anti-Semitic,” said Gary Levin, an associate director at the Anti-Defamation League. “But an organization that carries his name and that he funded on some level seems to be promoting anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, and that concerns us.”

The center also hosted Thierry Meyssan, author of “9-11, The Big Lie,” which implicates U.S. military officials in the September 11 attacks.

Mostafa Muhamed, the center’s acting deputy director, said the group is neither anti-Semitic nor anti-American. “This is a forum that is ready to receive any kind of views,” he said.

The sheik’s representatives in the Emirates did not respond to requests for comment. But an official at the UAE Embassy in Washington said the think tank’s literature and speakers do not represent the views of Mr. Zayed.

“He’s very open-minded and very respectful of other religions,” said diplomat Abdulla Alsaboosi.

Harvard began reviewing its gift last year amid growing protests by students and faculty members. A school spokesman said no deadline was set for a decision.

At Los Flores, the parent fund-raising committee will make the final decision when school starts later this month, Miss Druian said.



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