It was bound to happen. As soon as Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections last month, “moderates” were discovered in their midst.
With the last shred of hope for a viable peace process with the Palestinians tossed into the trash can by a landslide election victory for Hamas, some true believers in the inevitability of peace are prepared to hold their noses and reach out to find someone in the new governing party to talk to.
But as much as those who seek to find Hamas’s voices for peace are on a fool’s errand, that won’t mean that all ties with the Palestinians will be severed.
Given the complicated relationship between the Palestinian Authority and the State of Israel, it isn’t going to be easy to place the entire machinery of the Palestinian Authority off-limits. But even if we accept the logic of such ties, exactly who among Hamas’s cast of characters will be considered okay?
Far less earth shattering will be similar dilemmas of American Jews and their institutions that have invested so heavily in the notion of dialogue with the Palestinians. A recent controversy over the appointment of a Palestinian academic at Brandeis University speaks to this problem.
The man under fire at Brandeis is Khalil Shikaki, a leading Palestinian pollster who holds the title of senior fellow at the school’s Crown Center for Middle East Studies, where he co-teaches a course on peacemaking. Considered an expert in his field, he is the source of some fascinating polling material about Palestinians. Just last month, he released data culled during the PA election that showed the majority of Palestinians still supported a two-state solution to the conflict and wanted co-existence with Israel despite the vote for Hamas.
In addition to the position at Brandeis – a university with strong ties to the Jewish community – Shikaki has become a regular speaker at a host of Israeli and American institutions. If any Palestinian is considered a moderate, it is Shikaki.
Recently, however, he has come under fire from the Zionist Organization of America, which called on Brandeis to sever its ties with the Palestinian and prompted calls of a boycott of donations to the school until they comply.
The knee-jerk response from much of the Jewish world has been outrage at the ZOA.
Brandeis President Yehuda Reinharz dismissed Shikaki’s critics, calling their tactics “McCarthyism.” Americans for Peace Now rallied to Brandeis’s defense and termed the case against Shikaki not merely “unsubstantiated accusations,” as Reinharz had, but claimed the purpose of the campaign was a “right-wing” plot seeking to undermine moderates like Shikaki who have sought “common ground” with Israelis.
How dare ZOA, which placed itself out of the mainstream by opposing Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza last summer, question the bona fides of an academic so trusted by so many Jews?
But unfortunately for Shikaki and his friends, the accusations against the Palestinian stem from a Department of Justice investigation of Islamic Jihad in the United States, not a “right-wing” plot.
Evidence presented at the recent trial of Sami al-Arian, another Palestinian academic who operated the American wing of Islamic Jihad – a bloody terrorist group even more radical than Hamas – showed that Shikaki was up to his neck in terrorist ties in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Prior to becoming the flavor of the month at Brandeis, Shikaki was the director of the World & Islam Studies Enterprise, a think tank set up at the University of South Florida by al-Arian, and which served as a front for Islamic Jihad to establish its support network in this country.