In a June 12 letter to the editor, Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, claims that in my May 29 op-ed column I tried to absolve an enemy of Israel who used to be in, of all places, the U.S. State Department.
Klein's target is Joseph Zogby, former head of the Palestine Peace Project and later a member of the State Department's Near Eastern Affairs staff. Zogby is now in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
Klein's charges that Zogby is an "extremist" enemy of Israel -- a claim repeated in a number of newspapers -- are based on two articles written by Zogby in the Arab American literary journal Aljadid and in the Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs.
Zogby was writing about his experiences in the Palestine Peace Project -- an organization of which Klein greatly disapproves. It sent young American lawyers, law professors and law students to work on the West Bank with those Palestinians who were involved -- despite opposition from other Palestinians -- in developing a democratic society that respects human rights.
A New York University law student in the project, Michael Hanna, provided legal advice to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group and wrote a report for it that criticized the attempts of Palestinian officials to compromise the independence of the judiciary.
One of Klein's accusations is that even while Zogby was at the State Department, he was involved in a conflict of interest because he remained part of the Palestine Peace Project. In fact, Zogby's letter of resignation was dated Aug. 30. He entered the State Department on Sept. 3.
Klein also charged that Zogby "was arrested in Jerusalem in 1994 for interfering with an attempt by the police, implementing a court order, to seal off two rooms in the home of a convicted terrorist."
The home in question, in East Jerusalem, consisted in its entirety of the two rooms. The home's owner was an 82-year-old Palestinian and his 72-year-old wife. Because one of their sons had been convicted of a crime, the family was expelled from their home, which was then sealed -- under the Israeli practice of collective punishment.
By the summer of 1994, the convicted son had served his prison term. Under Israeli law, the family home could then be unsealed, but it wasn't. Two Palestinian nonviolent activists unsealed the home, but Israeli authorities moved to reseal it and arrested them.
The owner of the home and two of his sons had returned to the neighborhood when they heard their home had been unsealed. They were arrested and beaten. Zogby arrived, and as an act of civil disobedience, refused to leave the home in order to attract attention to the injustice to the family, which was not breaking Israeli law. He was put in a Jerusalem prison.
Zogby's detention was protested by the U.S. Consul General, and after eight hours, he was released. He was not charged with any offense.
Klein also accuses Zogby of calling Israel a "colonizer," "an alien oppressor" and an "abuser" of Palestinian rights.
More specific charges against Israel in this vein are regularly published by B'Tselem, the Israel Information Center for Human Rights -- founded in 1989 by Israeli academics, journalists and members of the Knesset. It has documented "administrative detention of Palestinians with no due process. . . . Detainees are provided with no information, nor given the opportunity to refute the allegations." And it has published a report titled "Routine Torture: Interrogation Methods of the General Security Service."
As for Zogby's use of such terms as "colonizer" and "alien oppressor," Dr. Naomi Chazan, former deputy speaker of the Knesset, has described Israel as "an apartheid state."
Once, when I was in Israel for a symposium, one of the participants was a prominent Israeli philosopher, David Hartman. I had never met him. During a break, he walked toward me in the corridor and without even saying "hello" asked: "What has been the most important development in the history of mankind?"
I said: "Due process."
"Right," he replied, striding on.
That is what Zogby was writing about; and in Israel, he met Israelis who believe in due process and are concerned with ensuring that the Jewish state adheres to its democratic roots. Zogby thereby freed himself of previous stereotypes about Israel.
Morton Klein might have overcome some of his own stereotypical thinking if he had audited sessions of the Palestine Peace Project.