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Conflict in Middle East; Mormon Bashing at Olympics

Aired February 7, 2002 - 19:30   ET


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight, his boss and President Bush just met face-to-face. Now the spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon faces off with a top Palestinian official. And Mormon bashing. Why has it become the newest sport at the Olympics?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In the crossfire, spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Ranaan Gissin and chief Palestinian representative to the U.S., Hasan Abdel Rahman. And later in Salt Lake City, Utah, Mormon spokesperson Kim Farah and in San Francisco, radio talk show host Bernie Ward.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: It's CROSSFIRE. Thanks for joining us. Even though he's refused to meet even once with Chairman Arafat, President Bush met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon just a little while ago for the fourth time in less than a year.

But peace in the Middle East remains but a distant dream. In what is now a familiar pattern of violence, a Palestinian gunman killed three people on the West Bank yesterday. And Israeli warplanes retaliated today against a Palestinian Authority building.

At least 833 Palestinians and 252 Israelis killed since the peace process fell apart two years ago. Is there any hope left? Can there be any peace if one side refuses to talk with the other -- Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Yes, Mr. Gissin, your prime minister has come to Washington to try to talk the president into breaking off relations with Arafat, the same as you have. I think kind of symbolically the day after your gunships were in action again, firing missiles at Nablus.

Isn't it quite clear that since there's nobody else to talk to, who is interested in peace on the Palestinian side, what you want to do is win the war, wear down the Palestinians with gunships?

RANAAN GISSIN, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER SHARON SPOKESMAN: We didn't start this war. We didn't choose this war. It was imposed on us. And I think after September 11, there's a clear understanding I think both by the president, as well as the prime minister, but the two people that are above and beyond the common shared values and common interests that we share, we also share unfortunately a same destiny. Either we fight terrorism for the sake of freedom and liberty in the pursuit of happiness, or we become victims of it. And I think after September 11, the world does not tolerate terrorism of any sort. And I think that's the backdrop against which this meeting takes place. Terrorism was imposed on us 16 months ago by deliberate campaign by Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority.

NOVAK: Mr. Gissin, of course, you have been winning a the war because you're killing a lot more Palestinians, about a 4 to 1 margin than they're killing you...

GISSIN: Not by our choice.

NOVAK: But Yasser Arafat in "The New York Times" on Sunday said some things that some very thoughtful Americans consider very important. Let's put them up on the screen.

He said, "I condemn the attacks carried out by terrorist groups against Israeli civilians. These groups do not represent the Palestinian people or their legitimate aspirations for freedom. They are terrorist organizations, and I am determined to put an end to their activities."

As far as plain English goes, that can't be any stronger, can it?

GISSIN: Yes, but if plain English could bring to life all those innocent people that Arafat's order has brought their death to, then perhaps I would say applaud these words. But words do not bring peace. Arafat made so many declarations and so many commitments to peace. And look where we are today. Even after he made that declaration of a cease-fire on December 16, we have suffered 18 dead, 250 wounded.

NOVAK: But he can't control those people.

GISSIN: No, that's not true. He doesn't want to control. I think we have to put a spade where it is.

PRESS: Mr. Rahman, after the meeting today with the prime minister, President Bush and the prime minister met with reporters. And President Bush kind of put it right to Chairman Arafat. I'd like you to listen to what the president said, then get you to respond, please. Here's President Bush just a little while ago.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I assured the prime minister that we would continue keep pressure on Mr. Arafat to convince him that he must take serious, concrete, real steps to reduce terrorist activities in the Middle East.


PRESS: That's the president's demand. What's your response? Are you ready to take those steps? HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN, CHIEF PALESTINIAN REP. TO U.S.: I would say that the president's statement would have been much more relevant had he also asked Mr. Sharon to stop demolishing Palestinian homes, stealing Palestinian land to build exclusive Jewish settlements, to impose a total siege on the Palestinians, starving the Palestinian population, making the Palestinian people life miserable.

And I want to say also to Mr. Gissin that history does not start on the 11 of September. He refuses and Israel refuses to accept that what is happening today between us and Israel is the result of 35 years of Israeli military occupation of our territories and of our people in which our people are denied the very basic rights that every human being takes for granted. History does not start on 11 of September.

And by the way, we are opposed to terrorism, all kinds of terrorism. Not the terrorism only of individuals, but also the terrorism that is carried by the state of Israel against the Palestinians. If you allow me just to continue for one second.

PRESS: I know Mr. Gissin wants to respond here.

RAHMAN: Yes, of course.

PRESS: He's chomping at the bit.

RAHMAN: I am responding to Mr. Gissin also. We want peace. Yasser Arafat did not talk against terrorism only. He laid down a vision for peace in which we accept the right of Israel to exist within the 67 boundaries. I want Mr. Gissin to tell me here tonight that he accepts our right to have a state over 22 percent of historic Palestine that would live next to Israel. If he says that, tonight he and I can start a peace process.

PRESS: Here it is. Go.

GISSIN: I think you should have heard what the prime minister has said. What lies at the end of the process, he said it today to President Bush.

RAHMAN: What did he say?

GISSIN: He said that there is at the end of the process, when the Palestinian comply with all those demands which are presented, not just by us, but by the United States to stop terrorism, to recognize the birth right of Israel. There's a difference. History does not start on September 11. It started 4,000 years ago. This is our ancestral homeland. We lived there before. We never stopped living in that land.

RAHMAN: But we have been there for (INAUDIBLE).

GISSIN: And we recognize -- no, no, but we recognize your right.

RAHMAN: We have been living there. And you were not there.

GISSIN: No, but we were there.

RAHMAN: Well, if you want to go back 4,000 years, we cannot go -- we cannot have a serious debate here tonight.

GISSIN: Hasan, we weren't there the same way as Temple Mount wasn't there.

RAHMAN: No, but let me tell you, no, no, no.

GISSIN: They said that Temple Mount wasn't there, too.

RAHMAN: What I am saying that 4,000 years ago does not give you the legitimacy to destroy the people who are living on the land today.

GISSIN: But we offered a hand to peace. Every time we offer a hand to peace.

RAHMAN: I am offering you a hand tonight.


RAHMAN: The '67 borders, do you accept it?

PRESS: If I can, the question I heard was you've both been there for 4,000 years. The question I heard was do you accept the existence of an independent Palestinian state, as he described, right along side of Israel, yes or no?

GISSIN: As we said, at the end of the process, yes, but this date, we will not accept an irredentist terrorist entity on our border. We will accept a peaceful one.

RAHMAN: You want to tell the Palestinian people that you won't have them under your occupation forever?

GISSIN: No, there's no occupation.

RAHMAN: There...

GISSIN: Ninety-five percent of the population is under Arafat's occupation.

RAHMAN: Is there any people that you know of this in the world who is under foreign military occupation, who remain silent?

GISSIN: But this is a lie. This whole hoax about occupation that you're talking about.

RAHMAN: You are not occupying us?

GISSIN: No, because 95 percent of your population...


NOVAK: Mr. Gissin, I wanted to ask you about Prime Minister Sharon's motives. I thought that was an interesting paragraph in that "New York Times" piece by Mr. Arafat. And we'll look at this, too.

He said, "Many believe that Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, given his opposition to every peace treaty Israel has ever signed, is fanning the flames of unrest in an effort to delay indefinitely a return to negotiations. Regrettably, he has done little to prove them wrong."

You know, there are a lot of Americans, some Jewish; many, many not Jewish who think -- who are very hard-liners. They think these negotiations were wrong. General Sharon is their hero. This is -- he does not like the peace process. Isn't that a fact?

GISSIN: That's not true. That's not true, because let the historical record speak for itself. Who was it who led to in building the peace with Egypt? Ariel Sharon, in the relation with President Sadat. Who was instrumental in building the peace with Jordan? Ariel Sharon. Who has found the special relation with King Hussein? Ariel Sharon. Who was the architect of the Y agreement? He wasn't a prime minister, but he was foreign minister. It was Ariel Sharon.

So when you look at the way -- what he has done in war, as well as in peace, he is an accomplisher. He's a doer. And maybe he wasn't the one that the laurels of peace were tied to...

NOVAK: He gets the Oslo Agreement.

GISSIN: What? Yes for good reason.

PRESS: Mr. Rahman, I'm no great big fan of Ariel Sharon. I have doubts about his commitment to the peace process as well, but last week, he did meet with three other Palestinian leaders, not Chairman Arafat, which seems to indicate he's not maybe the hard-liner we think he is. He's willing to talk peace with people who can deliver. And he has no confidence in Yasser Arafat.

RAHMAN: Unfortunately, Mr. Sharon used this meeting as a public relations ploy for himself. Because after he left, although he told them please thank Chairman Arafat, he told the press yesterday that he met them in order to develop an alternative leadership to Yasser Arafat. That's not the way to build confidence. You know, believe me, we want peace with Israel, but you have to listen to the 110 Israeli reservists who refuse to serve in the Palestinian territories because they said we do not want to be party to the destruction of the Palestinian people.

NOVAK: And a newspaper poll shows two to one feeling by the Israeli people that Prime Minister Sharon has no plan for peace. Do you want to -- we're almost out of time. We are out of time, but you want to respond to that?

GISSIN: Well, again, let him prove, let him do what he knows how to do and he will make peace. Even Palestinians admit, they don't admit it publicly, that is the one person, Palestinian and other Arab leaders, with which the Middle East can move towards peace is with Ariel Sharon, because he's a man of his word. NOVAK: We're out of time.

GISSIN: Now forget for a minute the demonizing effect, you know.

NOVAK: Mr. Gissin, thank you very much.

GISSIN: Thank you.

NOVAK: Mr. Rahman, thank you. We'll be back with religious warfare at the Salt Lake City Olympics. Are they bashing the Mormons or just having a little fun with the people of Utah?


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Who will be the fiercest competitors at the Olympics this year? The U.S.A. versus Russia? China versus Japan? Would you believe it's the media versus the Mormons?

The media have turned Mormon-bashing into a sport, taking on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on all kinds of issues, especially polygamy. Even the church's missionary work is not sacred, as seen this past weekend on "Saturday Night Live."




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you been to Salt Lake City before?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, but I can't talk now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know about the Church of Latter Day Saints?


NOVAK: Has the media gone too far? Are the Olympics a golden opportunity for the Mormons to turn around their image? Our guests in San Francisco, radio talk show host Bernie Ward, and in Salt Lake City, Mormon spokeswoman, Kim Farah -- Bill.


PRESS: Kim Farah, welcome.

You know, it's not just outsiders like "Saturday Night Live" that are making fun of Utah and the Mormons these days. Even inside of Utah, there's a lot of poking going on. There's a beer on the market that's called "Polygamy Porter."

FARAH: Polygamy Porter, yes.

PRESS: And the theme for that beer is "why have just one? Take some home for the wives." And there's a ski resort nearby that's also -- it's got a quad share. There are four seats on quad share. And it's advertised as seats for wife, wife, wife and husband. My question to you, Kim, is do you still have a sense of humor? The games haven't even started yet.

FARAH: We have a great sense of humor. In fact, I think we will probably found the "Saturday Night Live" skit just as humorous as anyone else. You know, when the Olympic scrutiny and the spotlight is on the city that's going to host the game, you expected people to take a look at your culture and things that may be unique or quirky. We've heard a lot of green jello jokes and things like that. And it's all good natured fun. And we don't take any offense to it.

PRESS: Well, I remember reading earlier accounts about the games coming up in Salt Lake City that the Mormon church actually saw this as a great opportunity to convert a lot of people and to prosthelitize. I mean, are you really assigning like a missionary to every athlete or a missionary to every tourist that gets off a plane in Salt Lake City?

FARAH: Absolutely not. In fact, I've actually seen some reports where it says we've pulled missionaries from the streets. And if you've ever visited Salt Lake City, we don't have missionaries on the streets, handing out pamphlets.

We are a prosthelitizing faith. We're known for that. That's why we found the skit so humorous. But during the games, we know people are coming to see the sport. There will not be missionaries out at Olympic venues.

However, having said that, this is an opportunity for the church to education. There are a lot of misconceptions out there. In the last couple of weeks, there have been over 900 journalists who have come to the church, especially from international areas to say, hey what do you believe? Can you clarify this for us? And for us, that's a good opportunity. That's a good thing.

NOVAK: Bernie Ward, every religion as you know, has beliefs, which in the eyes of outsiders may seem ridiculous. But can you imagine if this Olympics or summer Olympics were in Israel, that anybody would dare to make fun of Moses as a prophet of the Jewish religion, as Joseph Smith was ridiculed by the Mormon religion? Isn't the fact that the anti-religious journalists, the secular journalists, are attacking the Mormons because they can get away with it?

BERNIE WARD, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Oh maybe a little bit. I think that you're absolutely correct. I don't think you could do "Saturday Night Live" skits about Israel. But imagine if the Olympics were in the Vatican. This is a Catholic church, had three Broadway shows going on at the same time, all of them poking fun at the church one way or the other. And you do need to develop a thick skin and simply take it as it goes along.

I mean let's face it, the Olympics is going to a company town. This is a state where 90 percent or so of the people are Mormon. There are going to be more minorities in the state in 17 days than there may have been in the last 17 months.

This is going to be a focus that the Mormons are going to have to take, the focus that goes along with it. And there are going to be some serious questions asked about the church, about its relationships with its history. And some of that's going to come out that maybe some people didn't know about before. And it may be a little bit uncomfortable. But in the long run, it's all about information and it's all about knowing what's going on. So why not?

NOVAK: Let me follow that up, Bernie.

FARAH: Bernie?

NOVAK: Go ahead, Kim.

FARAH: Actually, I think Bernie's brought up a very important point. But I want to clarify that in Salt Lake City itself, we actually only make up 49 percent of the population. And so we've heard lot about the Mormon games and that label.

We're sensitive to that label. We think it's a label that's purely been manufactured by the media. And quite frankly, if I was someone of another faith or organization in the city, I would find it insulting.

So the church has gone to great lengths to work with an Alliance for Unity, a committee made up of various organizations in this city to make sure that ethnic groups in this city and other religious faiths have this opportunity to shine as well along with the church.

NOVAK: Bernie -- go ahead.

WARD: Well, I was going say, let's understand the other side of this. The Mormon church inserted itself into California to support an initiative that was anti-gay marriage and spent a lot of money here in a high profile way. The Mormon church with its representatives, Orrin Hatch and others, have been very clear over the years about entering the political fray.

So if you're going to play out in the political fray, you're going to have to expect what comes back with you (INAUDIBLE) not going to be flattering.

FARAH: Well, Bernie, Bernie, absolutely Bernie. But you have to understand that the church was neutral during the Olympic bid. In fact, we had some in our leadership for and against. We were neutral. But once the Olympics were awarded to Salt Lake City, we wanted to be good hosts And we consider ourselves really Utahans first and Mormons second in the context of the Olympic Games.

NOVAK: Bernie, let me suggest what may be going on here. Everybody knows that sports writers are hard drinkers. And you go Utah and all you can get is 3.2 beer. Isn't this a protest on temperance -- against temperance?

WARD: Well, I don't know if it's a protest on temperance. I think what it is is, there are people who don't know a lot about the Mormon church. And there are a lot of people, a lot of groups in this country who have some bones to pick with the Mormons. And I think you're going to see some stories about that.

PRESS: OK, all right Kim -- Kim, if I may, Kim. We're almost out of time. I just got to ask you, you know, there's sort of a motto out there that the world is welcome here into Salt Lake City. But let's face it, this is a state that -- where there's no alcohol, no caffeine and no tobacco. I mean, this is a weird state, right? You've got to admit. You are different.

FARAH: No, it's not. No. I think that we're different in a good way. We're one of 19 states that regulates our alcohol in such a way. And I think people, when they come to Salt Lake City, will see that we're pretty much just like everyone else.

WARD: Well, watch out for the green jello.

FARAH: Yes, well, it's come to Salt Lake City and I'll feed you some.

PRESS: No, you're not like everybody else. You're not like everybody else if, again, the creed is no tobacco, no caffeine and no alcohol. In other words, you welcome people as long as they abstain while they're at the Games, right?

FARAH: Oh, no. In fact, we have put our volunteers through an extensive, if you will, sensitivity training because we realize that we're in a community with a lot of people that believe as we do. We've actually told people, what are you going to do when people come and ask where to get a drink? And we tell them where to go. The Dead Goat Saloon is a great place to go.

PRESS: Well, on that good bit of news that you can get a drink at the Olympics, we are out of time.

FARAH: You can.

PRESS: Kim Farah, thank you for joining us. Bernie Ward, good to have you back on CROSSFIRE. Thank you both.

WARD: Thank you, Bill.

PRESS: And when CROSSFIRE continues, our own version of headline news. Stories that never made the front page or the back page, but we still like them and you will too. Stay tuned for our non-news news alert.


NOVAK: Now CROSSFIRE news alert, bringing you fascinating little stories you might have missed. All over Washington last week, people received an unusual e-mail from writer Danielle Crittenden. She revealed her husband, speechwriter and former journalist David Frome (ph), was the author of President Bush's phrase "axis of evil." She was breaking a White House code of silence. But Danielle added I hope you indulge my wifely pride in seeing this one repeated in headlines everywhere. David hopes the president will indulge it as well.

PRESS: And who says Hillary Clinton has no sense of humor? Speaking at the Washington Press Club dinner this week, she regretted that the Bush White House couldn't seem to locate the records of Dick Cheney's energy task force. Advice from the former First Lady, "I suggest that they try the upstairs closet."

NOVAK: And Democratic Representative Judy Corshane of the New Hampshire legislature has a perfect voting record that offends nobody. Elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2000, she never has voted in any of 444 House roll calls during her two terms, not a one. She says she's not been well, but well enough to pick up a special House license plate and paychecks. Maybe her constituents will send her back for a do nothing third term that doesn't offend anybody.

PRESS: And are you ready for this? New York City's broke. Again? Yes. And new Mayor Michael Bloomberg has put the city up for sale. No kidding. In return for big contributions, he is giving corporations the right to plant their name on city parks and playgrounds. Our advice? Hurry up and visit the Big Apple. It may be your last chance to see Central Park before they rename it Park Enron. Bob?

NOVAK: Bill, I guess -- I presume you approve of Senator Clinton's, Senator Hillary Clinton's making joke out of her duplicity when she defied the federal prosecutors and hid the documents they were looking for?

PRESS: Bob, will you ever give up on Hillary?


PRESS: She's got a sense of humor. It's self deprecating humor. It's good sport, Bob.

NOVAK: Well, Joe Stalin had a sense of humor, too.

PRESS: And she's going to be the first woman president of the United States. You got to deal with it, Bob

NOVAK: Joe Stalin had a sense of humor, too. Did you know that?

PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.




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