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Arab and Palestinian groups are arguing among themselves whether Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, is a fair-minded friend or whether he has "sold out" to the pro-Israel lobby.

Ironically, that argument was caused largely by description of a confrontation that Owens now admits never took place - and resulted from misunderstanding of imprecise wording he made while upset.The situation started last week when Omar Kader, a former Brigham Young University professor and a Palestinian activist, attacked Owens in the press - saying he was fed up with his one-time friend, and felt he had sold out to the Israeli lobby.

Kader complained, as he left the country for a trip to Tunis, that Owens would not co-sponsor a resolution by Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, calling for Israel to re-open Arab universities that have been closed three years in occupied lands.

Owens responded that he wouldn't co-sponsor the resolution because Kader had told an Owens aide he would attack him in the press unless he did - and Owens did not want to be bullied by Kader.

Owens said at the time, "I told him to go to hell and that if he passed any journalists on the way to feel free to talk to them."

When Kader returned from Tunis and read the story, he said no such confrontation took place. Owens admits it.

He explained that he told an aide to convey that message to Kader, but the aide had not yet done it. "When I said I told Omar that, I should have made clear I told my aide to send that message. I was upset when I made those comments because I had just heard about attacks from an old friend."

Meanwhile, Jawad F. George, executive director of the National Association of Arab Americans, read of the dispute and sent Owens a letter praising his work for Arabs and attacking Kader's "confrontational tactics."

George's letter said: "Far from holding that you have `sold out' to the pro-Israel lobby, NAAA feels that you have been among the most balanced and fair members of the Foreign Affairs Committee."

When Kader read a copy of that letter, he contended that George was the only Arab who likely felt that way. "While Owens may say nice things in committee, he has a 100 percent pro-Israel voting record. You won't find any other Arab groups who agree with Jawad George about Owens."

A few other pro-Arab groups contacted by the Deseret News agreed with Kader.

The Middle East Justice Network's ratings of members of Congress showed Owens to have a 100-percent pro-Israel voting record last year.

Tom Martin, with the Middle East Resource Center, said, "Owens unequivocally has a totally pro-Israel record. I don't know why NAAA would send a letter like that besides trying to curry favor from Owens."

Richard H. Curtiss, with the American Educational Trust, said his group's figures show Owens received $68,150 from pro-Israel political action committees the past two elections.

"While I don't know much about Mr. Owens personally, you don't get that kind of money unless you have a 100 percent pro-Israel voting record. That is an awful lot of money for any member of the House to receive," he said.

George Moses, a lobbyist on Middle East affairs, said, "When I was with the NAAA, we always considered Owens a strong supporter of the Israeli government." He said Owens had consistently low rankings from that same group that praised Owens with George's letter.

Khalil Jahshan, associate executive director of NAAA, said his group does have rankings of members, but does not reveal them to the press.

But he said, "Although his voting record is not 100 percent the way we would like to see it, it cannot be characterized as 100 percent the other way either."

He added that most members of Congress have strong pro-Israel voting records, but Owens has been among the easiest to work with beside that.

Owens added that he is among the very few who have called for direct talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, who have visited PLO leader Yassir Arafat and who have called for Israel to reduce violence.