Arafat responsible for bombings, professor charges

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A noted Mideast authority blames both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PLO Chair Yasser Arafat for last week's triple suicide bombing at an outdoor Jerusalem mall.

"Both sides are responsible but Arafat is most responsible," said William "Ze'ev" Brinner, professor emeritus of Near Eastern studies at U.C. Berkeley. Asserting that the PLO leader is clearly sympathetic toward Hamas, he cited recent photographs of the PLO leader kissing Hamas co-founder Abdul Aziz Rantisi after his release from prison.

"Arafat has put up a strong masquerade and is most responsible for embracing Hamas and Islamic Jihad."

Discussing highlights of events in the Mideast, Brinner delivered the opening Multi-Interest Day lecture yesterday at Temple Beth Sholom in San Leandro. For the past 10 years, he has been delivering the opening lecture in the annual MID series, sponsored by the Center for Jewish Living and Learning of the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay.

In an interview last week, he talked about Congress members' frustration and outrage over yet another suicide bombing in Israel and last week's House of Representatives vote to temporarily halt Palestinian aid.

"I can understand why they did it but it will play into the hands of the extremists," he warned. "Punishing the entire Palestinian people for the actions of a small group will play into the hands of the extremists by increasing Palestinian hostility toward the United States and Israel."

In regard to last week's botched raid, which killed at least 12 Israeli army commandos deep within Lebanese territory, Brinner expressed his sympathies.

"This great tragedy makes me strongly feel that Israel should stay out of Lebanon. It's a terrible loss for Israel, a small country where its people feel the death of each soldier and each civilian very personally," he said.

He also discussed highlights of the Jewish year of 5757, the topic of his MID lecture.

He mentioned the unvaulting of looted gems and gold in Switzerland, the ongoing question of "Who is a Jew?" and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's upcoming visit to the Middle East, which he views as critical to salvaging the peace process.

"The U.S. holds a lot of the cards, especially the financial ones," Brinner said. "It has been careful in the past to walk in line between both sides but is still generally seen as in support of Israel."

Brinner also noted the growing disagreements between Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews in regard to conversions as dangerous for the future of the Jewish people.

But he also said that "U.S. Jews may exert political and economic clout to convince Israel's government to give non-Orthodox people more status."

Turning to Eastern Europe, he is optimistic that Jewish schools and synagogues are suddenly flourishing.

"There is a tremendous interest in Jewish things," Brinner said, "even in countries such as Poland where few Jews are left."