Arab groups call for boycott of everything Disney

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NEW YORK — Arab-American and U.S. Muslim groups, objecting to the portrayal of Jerusalem in a special upcoming exhibit at Disney World, are calling for a boycott against the Walt Disney Co.

Referring to plans for the Israeli pavilion at the planned "Millennium Village" as "propaganda disguised as entertainment," American Muslims for Jerusalem, which represents a dozen organizations, is calling for the boycott against Disney and Disney-held companies including Miramax Films, ESPN, Walt Disney and Buena Vista brands.

"Disney has failed to seriously address" concerns about the exhibit "that portrays Jerusalem as Israel's capital," the group says, adding that it will "use every legal means available to conduct this boycott."

The boycott is the latest development in an ongoing controversy surrounding Israel's contribution to the Millennium Village in Disney's Epcot Center, which is set to open to the public next Friday.

Pressure from Arab groups to preview the exhibit led to a meeting last Friday between Disney World representatives and a committee convened by the Arab League.

In response to those concerns, Disney is rewriting the exhibit's film on Jerusalem in order to defuse the international controversy. Israel does not object to the rewriting, a Foreign Ministry source said Tuesday.

The new script is to refer to the historic significance of Jerusalem common to all three monotheistic faiths without explicitly mentioning the city as Israel's capital, the source said.

A Disney official confirmed Tuesday that there would be no mention of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The company issued a statement that the exhibit "tells the story of the role the city of Jerusalem has played throughout history."

The American groups' call for a boycott comes as Arab foreign ministers are planning to meet today to discuss possible actions against the international entertainment firm.

It also is reminiscent, say some Jewish officials, of the days of an Arab boycott against Israel.

At least one Arab-American group, however, is advising ongoing discussion rather than economic action.

The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, which took part in the meeting with Disney, is pursuing dialogue, not confrontation, said spokesman Hussein Ibish.

"No decisions have been taken" regarding the exhibit, Ibish told JTA.

"Disney has agreed not to call Jerusalem the capital of Israel. They have also said they are not going to change the exhibit, but there are plenty of things to be done to ameliorate the project," he said, such as issuing a disclaimer or creating a Palestine pavilion in the future.

"Our main objection is representing east Jerusalem as part of Israel," he added.

The final-status talks currently under way between Israel and the Palestinians are expected to resolve the issue of the city.

Israel claims the city as its "undivided, eternal capital." The Palestinians want a future Palestinian state to have as its capital eastern Jerusalem.

Israel's Foreign Ministry, which is sponsoring the exhibit, says it shows the centrality of the holy city to Muslims, Christians and Jews.

But, says a Foreign Ministry statement, "there is no doubt that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel" and "the position of Jerusalem as the key component to the Israeli pavilion at Epcot speaks for itself without a clearer or stronger statement being necessary."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said last Friday that while Israel views seriously the threat of a boycott, "attempts to damage the status of Israel and Jerusalem as its united capital have failed in the past and will fail in the future."

Israel's Foreign Ministry contributed $1.8 million to the pavilion, which cost a reported $8 million, and worked with Disney to develop its content.

For its part, Disney is reiterating its position that as an entertainment company it is apolitical.

Arab foreign ministers were expected to meet today in New York to discuss possible action against Disney. Arab League Secretary-General Esmat Abdel-Meguid, who is in New York for this week's opening of the U.N. General Assembly, reportedly will chair the meeting.

Despite some estimates that an Arab boycott of Disney could cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars, one influential shareholder in the Paris-based Euro Disney, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, reportedly said Saturday that a boycott of Disney will be more damaging to Arabs than to Disney.

But Khalid Turaani, the executive director of American Muslims for Jerusalem, said the exhibit's presentation will leave visitors with "one impression only and that is that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel."

His organization led a campaign last month to boycott Burger King until the fast-food chain withdrew its license from an Israeli franchise operating on a Jewish settlement.

Martin Raffel, director for international concerns at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said the call to economic boycott was problematic.

"Clearly there is nothing illegitimate about the Arab community pressing its view of Jerusalem," just as Israel pushed American leaders in Washington to recognize Jerusalem "as the indivisible capital of Israel."

The problem, he said, is the use of an "economic weapon."

"It hearkens back to the day when Arabs used a boycott to strangle Israel."