JCRC fax campaign attracts new pen pal — Arafat

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A Bay Area campaign to bombard Yasser Arafat with faxes after the recent barrage of terror attacks yielded an unexpected result this week — a reply.

The S.F-based Jewish Community Relations Council received in Tuesday's mail a two-page letter in Arabic signed by the Palestinian Authority president. Arafat condemned recent bombings against Israelis, but also charged that right-wing Israelis were tied to the attacks.

The response apparently was forwarded from Arafat's Gaza Strip headquarters to the Palestine Liberation Organization's Washington, D.C., office, which then inserted an "unofficial translation" into English and a cover letter before mailing it to San Francisco.

Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the JCRC, offered a mixed reaction to Arafat's missive.

"I'm pleased that we received a response from Mr. Arafat. I believe that reflects the fact that he is at least somewhat sensitive to public opinion," Kahn said. "On the other hand, I'm troubled by most of the content of the letter."

The translation "denounced these criminal attacks" by "enemies of peace" and reaffirmed a commitment to the Oslo Accords — both of which Kahn welcomed.

Arafat also assured the JCRC that "we have taken all the necessary security measures to deal with these terrorist acts."

But Kahn said he sees substantial room for Arafat to do more to combat terrorism.

"Words are nice. But what we want to see is consistent action on his part," Kahn said.

The Palestinian leader also reproached Israel for closing the territories after the string of suicide bombings. Arafat called the closure a "collective punishment against the Palestinian people" that didn't serve the peace process.

In addition, the translation implied that "Mr. Rahaba'am Zeevi, who is one of the leaders of an extremist Jewish organization called Moledate" had prior knowledge of the attacks. (Arafat apparently was referring to Knesset member Rechavam Zeevy, who holds one of the right-wing Moledet party's three parliament seats.)

It isn't the first time that Palestinian officials have tried to link Jews to Islamic-organized terrorist attacks.

"This has been a recurrent theme of his. I think it is inconceivable to me to that there is an ounce of truth in his implicit allegations," Kahn said.

Kahn also noted that the letter in English from the PLO's Washington office contained a logo of a Palestinian state displaying the entire state of Israel.

The JCRC started the faxing campaign last month after the Feb. 25 terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Ashkelon to pressure Arafat to crack down on the Islamic militant group Hamas. The JCRC publicly released two of Arafat's fax numbers: 011-972-7-822-366 and 011-972-7-824-672.

Does Arafat's reply mean that he and Kahn will become the Mideast version of Griffin and Sabine?

"I don't think we are about to become pen pals," Kahn said. "But we encourage community members who haven't written him to do so."