The lunchtime gathering - to be held at a private home in Germantown - precedes by a few hours a keynote address that Ashrawi is expected to deliver at the fifth annual Philadelphia fundraiser for the Palestine Children's Relief Fund. Money will also be solicited for that organization at the Jewish event.
According to terrorism expert Steven Emerson, who heads the Washington, D.C.-based Investigative Project, the charity Ashrawi is representing has documented links with the Holy Land Foundation, a Dallas-based group whose assets were frozen by the U.S. government in 2001 for financial dealings with Hamas. In addition, he contended, Ashrawi's views on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict are far from unknown.
Ashrawi has, on more than one occasion, defended Palestinian attacks: "The bombings do not come from a vacuum," she said on a PBS "NewsHour" broadcast in February 2004, according to a transcript excerpt provided by Emerson. "The first thing that has to be addressed is the issue of occupation itself. The problem with Israel all along is that it has always thought it could have a safe and pleasant and profitable occupation - that it can do whatever it wants to the Palestinians."
Philadelphia City Council attorney Steve Masters, a national board member of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom (Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace), who with businessman Robert J. Brand is organizing the afternoon dialogue, defended the event as simply an opportunity for "Jews to meet with Hanan Ashrawi" and discuss events in the Middle East. Emphasizing that the gathering is not a Brit Tzedek program, Masters described the relief fund as nothing more than a "group that brings kids who can't get the right medical care to the United States."
As to statements made by PCRF president Steve Sosebee labeling Israel a terrorist regime - he wrote in an Aug. 1, 1996 letter to the Dallas Observer that "there are many faces of terror in the Middle East, not the least of which is the Israeli government" - Masters responded that the Jewish community needed to look past the particular stances of the charity's leaders.
"I don't think their views have anything to do with the merit of it being tzedakah," he said. "We need to be affirmatively finding ways to show Palestinians and Arabs that we don't have a double standard" when it comes to humanitarian causes.
Emerson, though, blamed supporters of the charity and similar causes for buying into what essentially amounts to a whitewash of anti-Israel activities. He said that unofficial Hamas Web sites posted links to the PCRF Internet site in the late 1990s, and noted that as late as 1998, the Holy Land Foundation and PCRF had been conducting joint fundraisers and operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Ashrawi "is an anti-Israel propagandist, plain and simple," he stated. "PCRF has had troubling ties to militant groups, and its record is replete with vitriolic anti-Israel propaganda."
Yehudit Barsky, director of the American Jewish Committee's division on Middle East and international terrorism, pointed out that the Holy Land Foundation - which along with three other Islamic charities was found liable for the 1996 murder of 16-year-old American David Boim at the hands of Hamas gunmen in the West Bank - tried unsuccessfully in 2004 to divert some of its frozen assets to the children's fund.
Had it succeeded, she conjectured, it would have limited the amount of money available to pay the $156 million awarded to Boim's parents in December of that year.
"There are plenty of ways to give to needy people," said Barsky, "without giving to a Hamas-affiliated organization."
Rabbi Neil Cooper of Temple Beth Hillel/Beth El in Wynnewood bemoaned the fact that local Jews would consider playing host to Ashrawi, much less contemplate giving to the PCRF.
"I cannot help but notice the irony that this fundraiser is going to be taking place just before Yom Ha'atzmaut," Israeli Independence Day. "There's no need for Jews at this time of year - when we are celebrating the anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel - to provide funding and moral support to the Palestinians."