The Zayed International Centre for Coordination and Follow-up (ZICCF) has strongly rejected accusations of being anti-American or anti-Semitic as pressure builds up to have its activities frozen.

As pressure by Jewish organisations in the United States and other countries continued to build against the Abu Dhabi-based Centre which commenced operations in 1999, hundreds of Arab journalists expressed their sympathy and solidarity in joint letters sent to ZICCF this week.

ZICCF officials said yesterday they had received solidarity signatures from more than 160 Arab journalists this week and expected the number to climb to 1,400 today.

"Pressure is building up against the Centre but support is also building up," said Mohammed Khalifa Al Murar, director general.

The signature letters, obtained by Gulf News yesterday, denounced what they described as a "systematic smear campaign by Zionist circles in the United States and Britain against the Zayed Centre because of its distinct cultural and civilised role."

"Such distinct activities have enabled the Centre through well-known scholars to influence the world in understanding the just cause of our nation, on top of which is the plight of the Palestinian people who have been expelled from their homes and lived in diaspora for more than 50 years," said the letters, sent by journalists from Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the U.S.

"We strongly condemn this unfair campaign and appeal for UAE President His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, for Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the ZICCF, and Arab League Secretary General Amr Mousa to ensure the Centre continues playing this important role in defending our national causes. Resistance is not only by the gun as words are sometimes more effective… as evident in the campaign against ZICCF."

ZICCF was set up under a decree by Sheikh Zayed in line with a proposal by an Arab League symposium to create a regional mechanism to follow up and promote Arab causes abroad, and strengthen inter-Arab relations in political, economic, cultural and social fields.

The project was then endorsed by the Arab League Council which groups the foreign ministers of member states to become an affiliate of the Cairo-based League.

Since it was created, the Centre has hosted hundreds of Arab, Muslim and Western scholars and intellects who covered a wide range of issues, including economy, politics, defence, education, culture, security and other matters. The Centre has also organised scores of seminars and conferences on a variety of topics.

"The Centre is here to stay and it will," Murar said. "You should know that it is an Arab League organisation and it is up to the Arab League to decide on its fate… but I can tell you that it is a permanent issue on the agenda of the Foreign Ministers."

Bold views presented by those scholars who spoke out against injustice and oppression against the Palestinian people and criticised the countries which blindly support Israel have triggered a hostile campaign by Jewish organisations worldwide.

The campaign is spearheaded by the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a Jewish organisation that monitors the Middle East and and other regions for any publications and activities it deems as anti-Semitic.

Last year, Colonel Yigal Carmon, the institute's president, went to U.S. Congress to complain about ZICCF and present allegations that it is fomenting anti-Semitic views. The institute, which has branches in Britain, Israel and other countries, has also issued several statements against ZICCF calling for its boycott and closure.

But ZICCF rebuffed such claims and asserted that it is against all terrorism and all forms of racism and hatred directed at any ethnic or religious group.

"First, the Zayed Centre reiterates that it does not condone, nor does it 'sponsor or distribute', anti-Semitic or anti-U.S. literature of any kind. On the contrary, the Zayed Centre unequivocally condemns and opposes all forms of racism and hatred directed at any ethnic, gender, religious, or national group, including anti-Semitism," it said.

"Second, the Zayed Centre does not engage in disseminating anti-American literature. Indeed, since its inception in 1999, the Centre has hosted numerous American speakers who have discussed the special bilateral relationship that binds the UAE and the U.S."

It said Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Vice President Al Gore, Secretary of State James Baker, the President's brother Neal Bush, CIA Director Admiral Stansfield Turner, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy, Assistant Secretary of State Ed Djerejian and many American academics and diplomats are but a few of the illustrious list of mainstream speakers who have taken part in the lively and constructive dialogue for which the Centre has become widely known.

"The Zayed Centre does not harbour an anti-American attitude as claimed by MEMRI propaganda. On the contrary, American citizens and officials are among the Centre's most frequent visitors.

"Former Ambassador to the UAE Ted Kattouf has spoken twice at the Centre, so has the acting chief of mission who followed him in office. Although she has not yet spoken at ZICCF, current U.S. Ambassador Marcelle M. Wahba has paid a courtesy visit to the Centre and met with its Executive Director.

"The Zayed Centre is not in the business of censoring questions raised by independent reporters during lectures nor pre-clearing answers given to these questions by guest speakers.

"As an independent, non-partisan, non-profitable organisation seeking to bridge the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East, MEMRI should know that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right protected by many constitutions and international agreements and conventions. Difference of opinion in a free society does not justify censorship."

The statement said that since its founding, the Zayed Centre has hosted literally hundreds of guest speakers, including several heads of state and other prominent political, religious, academic, corporate, and social figures from various parts of the world.

"These speakers were given the opportunity to discuss issues of concern to them and to the world community in an environment characterised by total openness and intellectual freedom, as is the custom at all serious think tanks.

"The Centre's record in this regard speaks for itself. Any objective researcher may examine for himself or herself the substance of the Centre's more than 500 lecturers to ascertain for themselves that the Zayed Centre does not advocate an anti-American agenda, and, more importantly, does not condone any form of anti-Semitism or racism," it said.

"The mission of the Zayed Centre is clear and consistent with the vision of tolerance articulated by His Highness President Sheikh Zayed; and it remains committed to encourage free and open dialogue, without any constraints or restrictions, about serious issues that are vital to the region