Saturday, April 26, 2003


By Buddy Nevins, Sun-Sentinel

The controversy over whether an Islamic spokesman should have appeared in a Broward County schools video teaching tolerance swept across the nation Thursday.

The fight over the Middle East and who supports terrorists began Tuesday when Jewish activist Joe Kaufman, a fierce supporter of Israel, denounced a tolerance videotape made by the School Board because it featured a director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). He said CAIR backed terrorist groups, an allegation CAIR denies.

CAIR struck back at Kaufman on Thursday, denouncing him for having a Web site with links to extremist anti-Muslim groups. The argument spread with the speed of the Internet. It was picked up by FOX News and other news outlets and has quickly become a cause celbre among supporters of CAIR.

CAIR seems to have won the latest round. Shortly after the group issued its news release denouncing Kaufman's Web site links to Kahane.Org and HinduUnity.Org, he removed them. 'It is beyond hypocritical for a person who uses defamatory smears against CAIR, a mainstream civil rights group that has been consistent in its repeated condemnation of terrorism in all its forms, to promote the views of actual terrorists,' said Altaf Ali, executive director of CAIR's Florida office.

Ali is the person Kaufman said shouldn't have appeared on the school system's video. 'They can attack my Web site,' Kaufman said. 'That has nothing to do with the truth of what I say: They support terrorists.'

CAIR vehemently denies the accusations, which have been reported in newspapers such as the New York Post and Wall Street Journal.'Since we opened our doors in June of 1994, no CAIR spokesman ever defended a militant group,' Ali said. Ali also denied the charge that CAIR called the conviction of Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheik who planned to bomb targets in New York City, a 'hate crime.' And he denied a report in the Wall Street Journal that CAIR sponsored a rally in 2000 where Muslims chanted anti-Semitic slogans.'CAIR never used the term 'hate crime' to refer to the conviction of Omar Abdel Rahman and the rally in question was not sponsored by CAIR,' Ali said.

National spotlight

The Washington, D.C., office of CAIR jumped into the Broward controversy. 'We do not support any terrorism in any form,' said Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR's national headquarters.

The groups that had links from Kaufman's Web site did echo, if not the sentiments of anti-Muslim terrorists, at least vehemently anti-Islamic views. Kahane.Org is a site that promotes the views of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was assassinated in New York City in 1990. He was dedicated to turning Israel into a Jewish theocracy and expelling all Arabs. Kahane.Org is closely allied with and has a link on its Web site to Kach, a group whose members have been involved in repeated terrorist acts against Arabs. President Bill Clinton issued an executive order in 1995 freezing the financial accounts of Kach in the United States because of its terrorist activities.

Kaufman said he was not a supporter of Kach's views. He is, however, clearly no friend of the Arab viewpoint. For instance, Kaufman said he was against any Palestinian state because he said that 80 percent of the Palestinians support suicide bombers. With his news releases and protests against what he sees as anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli hate, Kaufman has come to the attention of Broward residents over the years.

He ran losing races for the state House twice as a Republican and his Web site is left over from his last campaign three years ago. His latest attack on CAIR has drawn much more attention than his earlier demonstrations against the Rev. Al Sharpton and others. American Muslims across the country immediately came to the defense of CAIR, which is the largest Islamic civil rights group in the United States, with 16 regional offices in the country and in Canada.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel received dozens of e-mails denouncing Kaufman and the newspaper's story Wednesday about the controversy. Art Teitelbaum, the Southern area director for the Anti-Defamation League, said the controversy is another example of how emotional the debate over the Middle East can get. 'Middle East emotions get easily played out in this country,' Teitelbaum said. 'The Arabs have their advocates. The Jews have theirs.' The Anti-Defamation League criticized CAIR on Tuesday.

But Teitelbaum on Thursday refused to comment further on Kaufman and the video. The video, made by the school system just before the war on Iraq started, was intended to teach students and teachers tolerance towards Muslims.

Ali's participation was recommended by the National Conference for Community and Justice, which used to be the National Conference of Christians and Jews, according to Joe Donzelli, a School Board spokesman.

Official's defense

Ali said he appeared on the tape because of reports that Muslim students were being picked on in schools and the fears that the intolerance would increase after the war started. Shortly after the tape was made, Kaufman began complaining and even wrote an article attacking the participation of Ali in, a nationwide conservative Web site.

In the middle of this controversy is the Broward School Board, which has asked Superintendent Frank Till for an explanation of why the video was made and why Ali was a participant. Three members of the School Board's Diversity Committee, a citizens group that oversees the school system's anti-bias efforts, also denounced Ali's appearance in the video.'

Some people brought concerns to us and we need to check it out,' said School Board member Stephanie Kraft. 'Both sides of this are very emotional.' Kraft said that the subject of diversity training is so sensitive that the School Board should make sure nobody is offended in the future. 'Maybe we need to reexamine how all these diversity efforts are done,' she said.

Buddy Nevins can be reached at or 954-356-4571.