Trouble in Marrakesh

Washington's popular Marrakesh restaurant -- where patrons eat without utensils in the colorful surroundings of a Moroccan casbah -- is in PR hell over the sociopolitical musings of Bashir "Gaby" Kouchacji, a man widely assumed to be the restaurant's owner.

Kouchacji described himself yesterday as a 57-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who has been in and out of "mental hospitals" for the past 15 years. He said he blames the Jews and the Israeli government for his three-month kidnapping three decades ago in his native Lebanon, his subsequent intermittent hospitalizations and his decades-long estrangement from two sons and four daughters. "They did this to me!" he shouted at us.

On his Web site, Kouchacji poses such unusual questions as: "Are the Arabs convinced that the Western world is fully behind them, because they know that the Jews targeted their families by exciting and corrupting their women and persuaded their sad homosexuals that they are gay?"

On a second Web site registered in his name, Kouchacji identifies himself as "a "restaurateur and philanthropist." But yesterday he told us that he only briefly managed Marrakesh when it opened two decades ago, and that Marrakesh and a successful Moroccan-themed restaurant in Philadelphia are owned by other family members, including an older sister, Viviane Kouchacji. "I am not involved in the restaurants," he said yesterday. Viviane's daughter Nina Kouchacji, manager of the Philadelphia restaurant, confirmed her uncle's assertion.

Marrakesh's trouble started when The Post's June 23 Outlook section published Kouchacji's quarter-page issue ad "sponsored by Marrakesh Enterprises" and listing the restaurant's address and phone number. "Have Zionists turned Jewish beliefs into a political party in the service of hatred and greed?" demanded the ad, which would have cost Kouchacji an estimated $20,000 if he didn't receive a discount for buying about 10 quarter-pages every year "for the past several years," according to Marc Rosenberg, The Post's manager of public policy advertising.

The ad predictably raised hackles among Jewish readers, sparking a letter of protest from the Anti-Defamation League as well as an article in Washington Jewish Week. The Post responded by refusing Kouchacji's payment to repeat the ad, which directed readers to Kouchacji's Web site.

Enter Mark Plotkin, not the radio personality but a mild-mannered regulatory lawyer at the firm of Covington & Burling. The 41-year-old partner sent a mass e-mail with a detailed description of Kouchacji's site, which he called "misogynist, racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic." He urged his recipients to boycott Marrakesh. Kouchacji responded: "Don't you feel sick to your stomach when you know that those big shot Washington lawyers, partners of Covington and Berlin [sic], have given permission to the agents of the Mossad to use their offices to send salvos of organized terror, intimidation, blackmail, and threats...?"

Yesterday, Nina Kouchacji, 37, tried to distance Marrakesh from her uncle. "He has his own projects, and I can assure you he has nothing to do with Marrakesh, and we absolutely don't endorse them." She added she didn't realize that he was using the Marrakesh name.

But Plotkin was unimpressed. "If they're serious," he said, "they have a responsibility to intercede with their uncle and take action to stop the ads and stop him from using the Marrakesh name to promote his hate speech."


* Months ago we published a photograph of President Bush with a document clip strangely attached to one of his fingers, and we speculated fruitlessly as to its purpose. Today we do it again -- this time from Bush's speech at Constitution Hall yesterday morning -- in the hope that someone, anyone, will give us an answer. Is it a mnemonic device? Perhaps a way of keeping alert? White House press secretary Ari Fleischer was no help at all.* We know just how he feels: Yesterday afternoon former D.C. mayor Marion Barry was spotted near 19th and R streets NW in the act of discovering that his late-model Jaguar sedan had been booted -- right on the left front tire. Hizexonner angrily kicked the tire and walked away -- presumably to catch a cab to Traffic Adjudication.* Like brother, like brother's master? The Washington chapter of Lab Rescue, a group devoted to finding good homes for Labrador retrievers, has posted this notice to place Buck, the 4-year-old half brother of Buddy, the deceased dog of Bill Clinton: "Housetrained. ... Owner give-up, said good with kids. Is dominant and growly around other males, but OK with foster dog, though clearly in charge. Good looking, but needs obedience with strong owner." No comment yesterday from the former president's office.