There's no doubt that Katya was one of the big hits at this year's fourth annual Chicago Arabesque, a three-day festival once again held under the auspices of the City of Chicago.
The attractive belly dancer was a good choice for opening day entertainment, drawing a sizable lunchtime crowd to a sun-drenched Daley Plaza on June 24. Likewise appealing was the noontime show featuring women modelling Arabic fashions.
This year's event went a long way towards "showcasing the wonderful culture and art of the Arab world," as Dana V. Starks, Chairman of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations (CCHR) Advisory Council on Arab Affairs, described its goal in a letter included in the festival guide.
The various food and product vendors appeared intent on introducing Chicagoans to "the rich and diverse cultures of the Arab world," Mayor Richard M. Daley wrote in the same guide.
It was almost enough to make a visitor forget the main themes of the previous festivals: Israel-bashing and anti-Jewish statements (Jewish Star, July 3, 2009). Almost enough - but not quite.
A hint that the change from past years was not complete is found in the words "a non-religious, non-political festival". That's how City officials characterized Chicago Arabesque in their 2007 and 2009 promotional brochures.
This year, those words were not used by either Mayor Daley or CCHR officials - with good reason, it turns out.
Among the non-profit booths were those under the auspices of the Palestine Children's Relief Fund (PCRF) and the United Holy Land Fund (UHLF).
While PCRF was described in 2002 by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs as "a non-political, non-profit, purely humanitarian organization" (and in a similar way in 2007 by the Arab American News, Dearborn, Michigan), and the UHLF on its website is called a "non political ... humanitarian organization," both have had ties to radical or anti-Israel organizations.
In addition, the former has been connected to terrorist-supporting organizations and the latter has employed anti-Israel rhetoric.
"If the other groups [at Chicago Arabesque] were purely celebrating culture, then it's inappropriate to invite groups part of whose agenda is to be supportive of either terrorists or to be involved in Israel delegitimization," terrorism and national security expert Steven Emerson told the Jewish Star this week.
"Some of the links [of the PCRF and UHLF] are troubling," Emerson said.
Palestine Children's Relief Fund
In studies prepared in response to an inquiry from the JEWISH Star this month, the past connection between the PCRF (founded in 1991) and the Holy Land Foundation was noted.
The studies were undertaken by The Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) in Washington, D.C., an independent, non-profit group started by Steven Emerson in 1995. IPT describes itself as possessing "the world's most comprehensive data center on radical Islamic terrorist groups".
According to one of the IPT studies, the Holy Land Foundation was closed in 2001 by the U.S. Treasury Department for raising money for Hamas, deemed a terrorist group by the United States (and other countries). In 2008, a U.S. jury convicted five former Holy Land Foundation officials, all of whom were given prison terms (Jewish Star, June 5, 2009).
Among other links over the years, The Investigative Project on Terrorism study found that in a 1997 Holy Land Foundation newsletter, it was stated that "Since 1991, the Holy Land Foundation has coordinated efforts with [thej Palestine Children's Relief Fund."
The IPT study also notes anti-Israel statements of PCRF founder and president Steve Sosebee.
These include a 1996 letter to the Dallas Observer stating that both the Holy Land Foundation and PCRF "were helping victims of Israeli state terrorism"; a 20(K) article describing how. during the Second Intifada, "Inside Israel, over a dozen Israeli 'citizens' have been shot dead"; and a 2006 article quoting Sosebee as alleging that the "American media focus on Israeli victims" was "mainly due to the manipulation of the Zionist lobby."
A 2004 article in The New York Times, not cited by the EPT, quoted a suspected alQaeda supporter appearing on NBC television as claiming that "PCRF is a front for Islamic Jihad" (designated a terrorist group by the United States). PCRF denied the assertion.
United Holy Land Fund
While UHLF (established in Burbank, Illinois in 1968) claims to help needy Palestinians and to be "non-political," a separate IPT study indicates that the group has in the past been a sponsor of anti-Israel events and has an association with anti-Israel groups.
For example in 2009, it was a sponsor of "Chicago Women and Children in a Silent Protest for Peace and Justice in Palestine", while in 1990, a Toronto Star article cited a PLO official as claiming that UHLF would provide "a family sponsorship fund" for a general strike against Israel in the West Bank.
A 2001 article in the Arab American View (published in Chicago and not cited in the IPT study) noted that Farouk Kaddoumi, the PLO "Foreign Minister" critical of the peace process with Israel, was to be the featured speaker at a local banquet.
The IPT study does note that UHLF has provided funds to the anti-Israel alQuds University in Jerusalem (which intends to boycott Israeli academic institutions).
This year's festival garnered "positive feedback". Ken Gunn, First Deputy Commissioner of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations told the Jewish Star this week. "It was non-controversial. People enjoyed it."
He said an estimated 12,000 people visited the festival each of its three days, which would represent about a 50 percent decline from past years.
"The organizations we had trouble with [last year] did not participate this year," Gunn said, adding that they did not apply this year.
He speculated that this could be for economic reasons, as it costs a vendor around $750 for a booth, although less for a non-profit group.
Mayor Daley spoke at the festival on Saturday, June 26 and visited some of the booth displays, Gunn said.
Jay Tcath, Senior Vice President for Public Affairs at the Jewish Federation who has long been involved in monitoring the City's programming, told the Jewish Star this week that "It is clear that the coverage and editorials of the chicago Jewish Star, as well as the discussions that JUF has had with leadership of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, have positively impacted what was, and wasn't, displayed at this year's Chicago Arabesque.
"In the past and this year, we focused on the actual contents of what was displayed or distributed at the booths, and have not complained about the participation of certain groups based on their activities outside of the festival," Tcath said.
Alderman Berny Stone (50th) was told this week about the Jewish Star article, and said he would follow up if necessary after assessing the newspaper's report.
Last year, Stone had warned he would move to dissolve the CCHR if antiIsrael. anti-Semitic material continued to be displayed at Chicago Arabesque (Jewish Star, Sept. 18, 2009).
"People didn't do enough due-diligence," Steven Emerson told the Jewish Star. "They get misled by the name of the group and don't look further."
He added: "There are too many questions I would have about these groups at this point to give them my o.k.