Author says Castor knew more about Al-Arian than she admits

Last week’s column, which in part addressed current candidate for U.S. Senate Betty Castor’s handling of the Sami Al-Arian mess while she was president of the University of South Florida, has evoked even more thought – and sent me searching for more information on the entire affair.

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Although Castor has stated that the FBI never gave her one iota of evidence, it appears that her statements are simply not true. In addition to the suspicions that arose about Al-Arian and his university cohorts, Castor received a memo from William Reece Smith which contained sworn affidavits from a special agent of the INS and an agent of the FBI that clearly asserted that Al-Arian, amongst others, was using his position at the university as a cover for terrorist activities. This memo was received in April of 1996.
I could go on reiterating my feelings about Castor’s failure to adequately address Al-Arian’s activities. But the following article which appeared in the Jewish Press this past week does a much better job of describing Castor’s failings in the Al-Arian matter than I ever could.
The author was Menashe Frank – and it is being reprinted with his permission.
The Jewish Press’ account of this affair also further underscores the idiocy of last week’s editorial in South Florida’s Jewish Journal, which excoriated Castor’s opponent in the race for the Senate, Peter Deutsch, for taking issue with Castor on the Al-Arian episode. Rabbi Bruce Warshal, publisher-emeritus of the Jewish Journal, could take a cue from the country’s largest independent Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Press, and perhaps next time write an intelligent piece which does not let personal bias against a candidate interfere with reality.
Warshal, who calls himself a leader of the Jewish community, has become a joke – and his upcoming endorsement of Castor in spite of this ugly affair and comments she has made regarding Israel will be laughed at by readers of his publication. If Warshal really believes his position has any merit, I would love to debate him on the subject. Anytime, anywhere.
In the meantime, please read the following enlightening account of just how Betty Castor responded to terrorists, turning her university into “Jihad U.”

Still learning from Florida’s ‘Jihad U’
When the indictment finally came it amazed even seasoned legal observers: 50 counts spread out over one hundred pages displaying the most damning evidence. By then the apologists for Professor Sami Al-Arian and his cohorts had run for deep cover. Alas, it was true. The indictment supported what had been alleged in the national press since 1994, when Steve Emerson’s acclaimed PBS documentary “Jihad in America” named University of South Florida as the North American headquarters of terror group Islamic Jihad. It was no longer the subject of serious debate. Al-Arian was going to jail, where he currently sits, awaiting trial.
The Al-Arian saga became national news in October 2001 when Bill O’Reilly of Fox News confronted Al-Arian with a letter he’d authored on Feb. 1, 1995, while he was a practicing professor of computer science at USF. In the letter, Al-Arian solicited funds for Islamic Jihad, touting the “latest operation” of Islamic Jihad and Hamas as “evidence of what the believing few can do…”
He was referring to the double suicide bombing at Beit Lid Junction in Israel which killed 21 and injured 69. Things were never the same at USF after the O’Reilly broadcast. Outraged alumni and community leaders flooded the campus with protests. Al-Arian was suspended in the interest of public safety. USF was now, officially, “Jihad University.”
While the fallout from the O’Reilly appearance and Al-Arian’s subsequent arrest made sensational headlines, the real story may well be what action, or, more precisely, inaction, led to such a sorry state of affairs. The central character in that drama is not Al-Arian but Betty Castor, who was president of USF when the terror allegations about her campus first came to light.
In recent years, Castor has touted her record at USF as evidence of her abilities as a leader. In my role as counsel to the American Democracy Project, a federal 527 issue advocacy group, I was charged with testing whether Castor’s claim of effective leadership matched the facts. In a search for the truth I visited USF and reviewed Castor’s files. The results of my research are alarming.
For a full year after the first publicized allegations of Islamic Jihad operating from the University of South Florida, Betty Castor utterly failed to investigate the charges, refusing even to make public statements against Islamic Jihad despite the pleas of the Tampa Bay Jewish community.
An internal USF memorandum dated April 17, 1995, from the USF Office of Media Relations indicates that after “Jihad in America” aired in November 1994 naming USF as the site of an Islamic Jihad terror cell, Castor’s chief deputy, interim Provost Dr. Michael Kovac, “was not concerned” several months before at the time that the “Jihad in America” story was extensively covered in the national press.
Similarly, when the Tampa Tribune published irrefutable evidence that corroborated Emerson’s claims that Islamic Jihad terrorists were operating at USF, Castor received a letter from Al-Arian dated June 1, 1995, in which he stated “if you or any of your assistants care about a point by point refutations [sic] of the Tribune’s allegations, I’ll be happy to provide them to you face to face with full documentation.”
There is no record that Castor ever once personally interviewed Al-Arian about alarming allegations that he was the recognized leader of Islamic Jihad in America, despite his invitation to meet with her. It was almost a year before Al-Arian was suspended with pay.
Perhaps the most damaging document discovered was authored by Castor herself.
Following the Tampa Tribune’s expose and in the face of demands by faculty and others to investigate Al-Arian and his colleagues, Castor adamantly refused to look into the allegations. In an internal memorandum to her senior staff, dated June 23, 1995, Castor declared, “I am deeply concerned by implications that the University should ‘investigate’ entities or people and be the arbiter of what political, social or religious ideology is ‘good’ or ‘evil.’”
Of course, Islamic Jihad in 1995 was exactly what Islamic Jihad is in 2004. It is neither a political, social nor religious enterprise. It is a genocidal terrorist entity responsible for the murder of scores of Jews and Americans, and it had been specially designated by President Bill Clinton as a threat to U.S. national security at the time Castor refused to declare it to be either “good” or “evil.”
University of South Florida became “Jihad University” under Betty Castor’s watch not merely because of the activities of Sami Al-Arian. The indictment names eight defendants, including another USF professor, Ramadan Shallah. Shallah left the university in October 1995 only to surface as head of worldwide Islamic Jihad in Damascus. At a meeting on Nov. 6, 1995, the USF Jewish Faculty Group urged Castor to hold a press conference to unequivocally state that she “personally and officially thought the situation that resulted in USF becoming a haven for terrorists and their supporters was not only unfortunate, but reprehensible.”
Castor did not make any such public statement. Instead, her vice president, Harry Battson, explained to the press that Shallah was “part of the USF diversity commitment” and Islamic Jihad “an important cultural group with terrorist elements.” Battson was quoted as saying that just because Shallah leads Islamic Jihad doesn’t mean “he has terrorism on his mind.”
Such statements evince an inexcusable misunderstanding of what Islamic Jihad is all about. If, in 1995, Betty Castor and her staff needed information in order to appreciate the agenda and danger of Islamic Jihad, they could have simply opened a newspaper. That year Islamic Jihad murdered 30 people in Israel, including American college student Alisa Flatow. Or perhaps while the mission of Islamic Jihad was well known to Castor in 1995, she simply did not care.
In either case, whether her inaction in the face of overwhelming evidence of terror activities on her campus was due to a fundamental ignorance as to the Islamic Jihad agenda, or whether her failure to act stemmed from informed apathy towards the expression of that agenda, the results cannot be disputed. For that fateful year nine years ago, Betty Castor’s failure to do something to stop the terrorists at USF was a fundamental failure of leadership, and a failure about which the public has a right to know.