The Investing Prince’s, Um, Clarification


Yesterday the New York Times’ op-ed page gave some space to Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal. Alwaleed used to be known only to devotees of the financial pages, where he was “the Warren Buffet of Saudi Arabia.” More recently he became known to a more general audience as the guy whose $10 million check for World Trade Center relief efforts was rejected. (See  this earlier “Moneybox” for more.)

The op-ed has no point, other than to provide the prince with a forum for attempting to put a better spin on the remarks that got his donation bounced and subjected him to a wave of criticism. “I reject the notion that any person or any cause can justify terrorism,” Alwaleed declares. “The Sept. 11 attacks will never be justified. Period!” He goes on to say that “the view I tried to communicate” is simply that Arabs want the long-standing “Palestinian-Israeli conflict” to be “resolved as soon as possible.” Obviously, pretty much no one would object to that sentiment. There are many points of view on the issue, but I’m not aware of any rational figure who has argued against resolving it.

In other words, this is a case of pretending to “clarify” one’s position by saying something bland and vague. In fact the “clarification” is not a sharpening, but rather a blurring of what was said earlier. Alwaleed’s original statement wasn’t bland or vague at all. “We must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack. I believe the government of the United States of America should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause.” And which direction is the balanced tilted currently? “Our Palestinian brethren continue to be slaughtered at the hands of Israelis while the world turns the other cheek.”

These were not off-the-cuff remarks. They were part of a written statement handed out by Alwaleed’s publicist to reporters at Ground Zero in New York the day of his donation. I think it’s a shame that the prince’s contribution went to waste, and I don’t think charitable givers ought to be subjected to some ideological litmus test. But perhaps the lesson here is that charity ought not be accompanied by a position-paper-like press release in the first place. Now the prince’s op-ed implies that someone tried to weigh his well-intentioned gift down with politics. And that’s certainly true—but the person who did it was him.