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June 1998
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Washington Scene:


"Don't Eat those Bagels!"

"Edward Said is our 'baby'"

MER - Washington - 10 June:

What happens in the Middle East is greatly affected by what happens, and doesn't happen, in Washington. After all, Washington is the capital of the modern-day American Empire and home to the Israeli/Jewish lobby whose ability to twist and manipulate affairs relating to the Middle East has never been greater.

And consequently the interaction of government, lobbying organizations, p.r. firms, and organizations of various types in Washington is of growing importance; hence MER's emphasis on the "Washington Scene" in addition to the Middle East. This emphasis has been further stimulated of late by the censorship and attempts to cast aspersions about MER coming both from the Zionist organizations as well as Arab-affiliated "client organizations", among them the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) which holds its annual conference in Washington this weekend. Quite a few Arab-Americans come to the convention since they have nothing else to bring them together -- but as one of those attending writes to MER "I was an ADC intern...and I agree that the organization is fairly useless as a political entity. I basically go to the convention to see my Arab buddies that I only see at conventions".

The sad and tragic reality is that at this critical time in the history of the Middle East the Israeli/Jewish lobby has never been more powerful; the Arab "lobby" never more politically corrupt and deceptively misleading.

The following article is from a Palestinian graduate student who recently worked with ADC but was told to take a hike after appearing on the weekly MER-TV program to oppose U.S. and Israeli policies in the Middle East.

One note of caution. Everything that MER does it does in the open for all to consider and debate. Not so with ADC which has a long history of  behind-the-scenes deceptions and self-serving duplicitous rumor-mongering. So please don't hesitate to get in touch with anything that comes to your attention regarding these matters; we'll continue to do what we can to let you know the "realities" of what is going on, and if you prefer anonymity just let us know...of course we understand.




By Omar Qourah

"DON'T EAT THAT BAGEL!" the baffled secretary was interrupted while creaming her bagel with cheese by a scream from a lady who works at the Washington National Office of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination

Committee (ADC).

" Its Jewish food" she insisted.

Shocked and surprised at the remark, I ventured to say that bagels have actually originated in a Muslim province in China and were introduced to Europe through the commercial routes of the Silk Road in the Middle Ages. I added that this is a good example that cultures are hybrid. She looked at me in deep disbelief and kept silent. However, the same exchange occurred again several times in the next two weeks. The lady also frowned at me when I asked her if she had watched the previous day's episode of the popular TV series "Seinfeld".

At first, screaming seemed to be the norm in that office. In the same week, while chatting with a new intern in the office about issues facing Arab Americans, the screams of ADC National President Dr. Hala Maksoud at one of the senior ADC staff in the conference room interrupted us and caused us to look at each other in utter surprise. A journalist who was waiting to meet with the media director also tuned in. The hollering went on for half an hour. I tried to engage the visitor by talking to her, trying to distract her attention from the screams coming from the conference room. I later found out that the legal director of the office was forced to resign after all the screaming because she publicly supported a letter sent to the president of ADC calling for more democracy in running the organization in addition to financial accountability. The letter which was signed by 21 local chapter presidents and ADC activists all over the country also called the ADC annual convention "tasteless" and designed for the well-heeled, famous Arabs and for the Ambassadors and their friends.

Three months ago my uncle called me to tell me that a position has opened up at the ADC and that it would be a good idea to work there on the side while going to school. Fine I said. I have not really gotten involved with Arab Americans organizations before and I thought that this could be a rewarding experience now that I live nearby and attend American University.  I got employed working twenty hours a week as an administrative assistant.

Since my field of studies is management information systems, I quickly realized that the office could use serious help. In addition, interns and workers complained about the outdated phone system and how a basic voice mail system could save everyone time. I expressed disbelief at the fact the media director's computer lacked Internet access. The office's fax machine frequently had a waiting line and broke down often. There was terrible lack of good office management. The slogan of the Office was: "I have no idea."

Maybe by the mediocre standards of many of the Arab world's institutions and organizations the ADC National office would pass fine. But this is an organization that claims to be involved in everything from standing up to AIPAC (the Israeli/Jewish lobby) to fighting discrimination against and stereotyping of Arab Americans. It always claims to be the "largest grass-roots Arab American organization." Reality, however, is sadly different.

One of the most important tasks at the ADC National Office I found out is monitoring the daily press for any possible mention of the ADC. Never mind the Bantustanization of Palestine. Never mind the sanctions killing Iraq. Never mind the seething frustrations throughout the Middle East. "We want to know what they say about us," I was told; and that seemed the most important thing of all.

Whenever there was a positive mention of the ADC in the press, clips of the article would quickly be faxed to supporters around the country. The Middle East, I realized, could be going up in flames as far as they are concerned, but at the top of the ADC's concerns was any mention of ADC.

The major project that the ADC was involved in while I worked there were the Quilt (Lihaf or sharshaf in Arabic), a large blanket consisting of interwoven 418 panels displaying Palestinian embroidery each representing a Palestinian village destroyed by the Israelis in the process of creating Israel fifty years ago.

The quilt is currently touring the country travelling from one city to another. It is scheduled for display at the Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on June 14. Amazing as it may sound, this Quilt campaign was supposed to counter Israel's extensive and widespread celebrations of fifty years of its founding! The Quilt project, we are told, is important because it represents the combined efforts of a dozen or so Arab and Palestinian-American organizations and associations. In fact, what it really represents is the lowest common denominator that these do-little-too-late groups were able to agree on.

Even with all these efforts, and all these organizations, I heard that only a handful of people bothered to attend the kick-off rally in New York City last month outside the U.N. There is no serious plan to follow up on any of this, no real "50th anniversary" agenda, and certainly no realization of the gravity of what is happening in today's Middle East. A related project was selling T-shirts and buttons to the different ADC chapters around the country -- not much success here either.

All this while Israel's anniversary celebrations included various TV specials and documentaries, and art performances in the J. F. Kennedy for the Performing Arts.

When Mid-East Realities (WWW.MiddleEast.Org) published a short and factual article about "The Quilt," an article which honestly spoke up about this whole farce ("The Arabs - More Impotent and Co-opted than Ever"), I read the article and went to work the next day trying to hold back my laugher (and disgust) about all this. Shortly, someone called in about the article telling them they "have been attacked"! The office erupted in frenzy, and then someone from Dr. Jim Zogby's office (Arab American Institute) called in eager to have the article sent to them too.

The eruption caused by that one little e-mail reminded me of my days of living in Lebanon when the sirens warning of Israeli bombing sparked a desperate search for shelter. When people at ADC found out that I regularly read MER, know well MER publisher Mark Bruzonsky, and even assisted a couple of times in producing the cable TV show (which never mentioned ADC), they approached me as if I was doing something surreptitious and awful. Nothing of the sort actually. I told them there was nothing secret here, that I had even interviewed the ADC Media Director, Sam Husseini, for MER-TV, months ago back in February outside the White House, along with Mark Bruzonsky. And then I was glad to be asked to appear on another MER program that was highly critical of U.S. and Israeli policies. The program is shown weekly on cable in Washington -- and its actually quite good; far better than anything ADC is doing about these subjects.

Even so, the reaction from senior ADC people was pretty much like the bagel - you are "associating with the Jews" they insisted, apparently referring to Mark Bruzonsky being Jewish, even though many Arabs and  Palestinians eagerly follow and strongly support MER. The organizing director then told me, that MER "aims at undermining Arab American achievements" and cited an example a Palestinian organization called ROOTS from many years ago that "failed because MER spread rumors about it."

After this I found out that ROOTS really failed because of all-too-typical incompetence and corruption; and that MER didn't even exist when Roots did. Back when Roots was in Washington I now know large amounts of money was sent by Arafat to Washington for that organization as well as for two publications, "Jerusalem Report" and "The Return". These large sums, totalling into the millions of dollars, accomplished very little and everything they supported isn't even in existence now and few even remember. Furthermore, I now have learned, these two publications were those of Ramonda Al-Tawil, Yasser Arafat's mother-in-law, and her family members, who I am told got considerable sums of money sent to them and much of it was used by her and her family for such personal things as homes in Washington and Paris. Back in Palestine we had always heard rumors about these kinds of things; now in Washington I'm finding out most of them were true.

What was further despicable about what I found out at ADC is the use of prominent intellectuals such as Prof. Edward Said to prop-up ticket sales for the annual convention, and little else. One day I heard the chairperson of the ADC board of directors refer to Prof. Said as their "Baby". She added they knew how to get him to do whatever they wanted him to. The ADC did not seem to pay attention to the fact that Said's views about the "Peace Process" need to be heard by as many people as possible; for they spent little effort toward this goal and I never heard them discussing it. Rather, just as with the monitoring of the press mostly for mentions of ADC, really educating and mobilizing the American public is an afterthought at best. What matters is that people come to the annual convention, support ADC, and follow whatever ADC tells them to do. Others convention speakers too were invited on the basis of how supportive and on-board they were, not how effective or truthful.

One week before the convention, after I had worked long and hard calling people all over the country to come to the convention and received the praise of all of my supervisers for my energy and hard work, I was abruptly told that my services were no longer needed. Right then and there I decided to write something and send it to MER, as MER had been quite right about these things all along. When I asked if I would get to attend the convention as an ADC employee since I had worked so hard to register people I was told flatly by the blond, blue-eyed president of ADC, Dr. Hala Maksoud: "With all honesty, No, because you work with MER."

At least she was honest this one time. Not much different it seems about the Arab-American organizations in Washington and the regimes we suffer from in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, "Don't Eat The Bagels!", and cheers for "the Quilt".




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