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Farrakhan and the Middle East

To: Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.

From: Jude Wanniski

Re: A religious issue

During last year’s presidential campaign, you surprised me and the rest of
the political world by saying you would be prepared to meet with Minister
Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, a man the American
Jewish community has vilified for more than 15 years as an anti-Semitic

As an orthodox Jew who practices his faith, you broke with the
secularized Jews of the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish
Committee who had resisted every effort at reconciliation by Minister
Farrakhan during this stretch of 15 years. They said they would never meet
with him until he had apologized for his behavior over the years, to which
he replied that he would apologize for anything he said that they could show
that was in error. On the contrary, you said you would meet with him without
preconditions, as Jewish friends of yours had privately assured you that he
was not the terrible man he has been portrayed as being.

As a Catholic and a friend of Farrakhan who believes he is a good and religious man, I was
heartened by your statements and was saddened when your Republican opponent
in the campaign, vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney, said he would not
even contemplate such a meeting.

The meeting never took place, although I saw you did meet with Leonard
Muhammad, the Nation of Islam chief of staff and Farrakhan’s son-in-law, and a photograph of you shaking his hand appeared in the NOI’s
weekly newspaper, The Final Call. The fact that Min. Farrakhan is “the most
trusted black leader” in America according to a poll of black Americans in
February helps explain why your show of respect for him contributed to the black community’s support for the Democratic ticket last November. The reason for this note, senator, is to suggest that now is a good time for you to have that meeting with Min. Farrakhan, as he is also the most respected American Muslim in the Islamic world of more than 1 billion people. Warmly regarded and well known by Islamic religious leaders
throughout the world, Minister Farrakhan also is trusted by them, seen first
and foremost as an Islamic religious leader in the U.S.

The violence in the Middle East has escalated to a point where the Bush
administration now has decided it must involve itself directly to prevent
further escalation and wider war. It has been my belief for several years
that while such initiatives could help close the political gap between the
Israelis and the Palestinians, a religious gap would remain, which would
have to be closed by religious leaders. This, after all, is the Holy Land we
are talking about, and the passions that have prevented resolution of the
differences there cannot be reconciled by secular authorities.

There is no finer American analyst of the political scene in the Middle East
than Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times. In his “Foreign Affairs”
column Tuesday — “It Only Gets Worse” — Friedman argues that the problem
comes down to the fact that Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, was
incapable of closing the deal he was offered last year by Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David, which would have given the Palestinians
control of 95 percent of the West Bank and Gaza. The plain fact is that Arafat
is the agent of the Islamic world, where there are no “secularized Muslims,”
and that world would not permit Arafat to even extend a final offer that
Barak might have been able to accept. Friedman writes:

My idea, senator, is that in this unipolar world, the United States sits
alone atop the world power pyramid, and here the most important American
Muslim is Louis Farrakhan, known and respected throughout the Islamic world.
When Iranian authorities last year convicted several Iranian Jews of
espionage for Israel, it was Farrakhan who was asked by a group of
American rabbis to intervene in Tehran on their behalf. As ill as he was
with the lingering effects of his cancer surgery, Farrakhan last
September flew to New York from Chicago to meet with the president of Iran
to make that appeal, which resulted in the lightening of the sentences on
the convicted men. That story was not told in the American press, although I
alerted several prominent journalists to it, because our press corps has
been so intimidated by the idea that Louis Farrakhan has been equated to
Adolf Hitler, which is how he was cast in 1984 by the Anti-Defamation

While Farrakhan is nevertheless America’s primary Muslim leader, you are America’s primary Jewish political leader, by virtue of your vice-presidential candidacy last year and the prospects for a potential presidential run in 2004.

It strikes me that this combination of Lieberman and Farrakhan, as
improbable as it might seem, may provide the means by which the religious
gap between Palestinian Arab and Israeli Jew can be bridged. Tom Friedman’s
point about the need for the Arab world to stiffen Arafat in a compromise is
absolutely correct, I think, and it is difficult to see how this might be
brought about unless Farrakhan explores the possibilities that were not
available to the political emissaries sent to the Middle East by President
Bill Clinton last year or that will be available to President Bush’s

In this Holy Land conflict, it will take holy men, Christian,
Muslim and Jew, to provide the seal. You can start that process, senator,
with a phone call to Chicago.