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Pollster's relationships might have led to warrant

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By SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN, Times Senior Correspondent

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 22, 2002


Khalil Shikaki is one of the Mideast's most respected pollsters, a propeace Palestinian who works with an Israeli university, writes for a U.S. magazine and has twice been the guest speaker of a Jewish organization.

So what is Shikaki's name doing on a federal search warrant that calls him a terrorist?

"If (the warrant) was produced by the same kind of federal bureaucracy that gave visas to terrorists six months after they died, this is the flip side," said Gideon Rose, managing editor of Foreign Affairs magazine.

"He's not a terrorist. He's one of the most objective, intelligent and perceptive observers of Palestinian politics around. We're proud to publish him and would hope this is yet another case of federal agencies not being able to keep their records straight."

The U.S. Customs Service won't say why Shikaki's name appears on warrants federal agents executed Wednesday in Virginia as part of an investigation into the funding of terrorist groups. But the reason apparently lies with Shikaki's long-ago ties to an Islamic think tank at the University of South Florida.

In 1990, Shikaki became the first director of the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, but he left Florida soon afterward to return to the Middle East.

A major scandal erupted after Shikaki's estranged brother, head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, was assassinated in 1995, and WISE's second director, Ramadan Shallah, surfaced in Syria as the terrorist group's new leader.

WISE was shut down in 1995, but its founder, USF professor Sami Al-Arian, continues to be dogged by accusations that he and his brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, used WISE as a front to raise money for Islamic Jihad.

The university is in the process of firing Al-Arian, and Al-Najjar is in jail awaiting deportation.

The warrants served Wednesday seek information on, among others, Al-Arian, Al-Najjar, Shikaki and "any other individual or entity designated as a terrorist" by the U.S. government.

However, none of the three is on the publicly available "watch lists" generated by the federal government after Sept. 11 as a guide for local law enforcement, airlines and others that might come across suspected terrorists. Nor are they on the list generated by Executive Order 13224, which mandates the seizure of bank accounts and merchandise owned or used by more than 400 people and groups since Sept. 11.

Shikaki was traveling Thursday and could not be reached for comment. But in a 2000 interview with the St. Petersburg Times, he said he did not belong to any organizations and hadn't seen his brother for years before his murder.

But because his brother was a known terrorist, Shikaki has spent much of his life fighting guilt by association. In 1992, after he earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University and taught in Wisconsin and Florida, Israel refused to let him return to the West Bank although he had a valid permit.

The reason?

"That I was "connected' to my brother," Shikaki said at the time. "The Israeli response did not define the connection between me and my brother, nor did it provide any evidence."

Shikaki didn't get even that explanation until Israeli officials were pressured by reporters and academicians.

The permit dispute was resolved. Today, Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, is respected by both sides for his research and polling, which has received money from the Ford Foundation. He conducts an ongoing polling project with Israel's Hebrew University and has often been quoted in the New York Times and other major U.S. newspapers.

In 2000 and again last August, Shikaki was guest speaker at events sponsored by Americans for Peace Now, a Jewish organization that promotes U.S. policies that further the Mideast peace process.

"We've met with him and worked with him several times," said Lewis Roth, the organization's spokesman. "He's been a propeace voice in the Palestinian community for many years, and it's absolutely disgraceful his name has been dragged into a controversy involving Islamic Jihad."

Peace Now's national secretary Jo-Ann Mort recently called Shikaki "one of the most respected political scientists in the Palestinian world," in an open letter that criticized the conservative Weekly Standard for identifying him only as a terrorist's brother in an editorial on the USF controversy.

The Standard "smears by association," Mort wrote. The editorial's author, David Tell, agreed the criticism was valid.

"My piece was about Al-Arian, whose association with and support for international terrorism are now the subject of a major "academic freedom' dispute," Tell said in an editor's note. "The identity of Khalil Shikaki's brother is relevant to that dispute. But Khalil Shikaki himself, whose background and reputation Jo-Ann Mort accurately describes, is not. I regret having failed to make that clear."

Shikaki is a contributor to Foreign Affairs, a respected quarterly magazine published by the Council on Foreign Relations. His piece in the January/February issue, "A Palestinian Civil War?," warns that Yasser Arafat's corrupt and ineffective leadership must "reform or perish."

Shikaki "is totally objective, deeply critical of Arafat," says Rose, the magazine's managing editor. "It's idiotic to put him as a terrorist."

-- Times staff writer Chuck Murphy contributed to this report. Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at susan@sptimes.com.

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