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REALITIES OF ARAB AMERICAN ORGS AND MIDDLE EAST AFFAIRS
"As for what happens after these conferences, it is
rather depressing. Of course, keep in mind that the
purpose is to mislead rather than direct. Many
students and well-meaning people will get enthusiastic
at the information and messages being given by the
speakers. They will want to do something. Rather than
do something on their own and start a real serious
organization, they will be mislead into putting their
energies into the organization sponsoring the conference
and end up chasing their tail."
"To understand another aspect of this farce, one should
think of the Wizard of OZ fable, where the "wizard" at
the end was the little man behind the screen appearing
to be much bigger than he was, projecting himself not as
he really was but how he wanted everyone to believe he was."
"These conferences are more like entertainment events for
Arab Americans than political mobilization events aiming
towards political change."
MID-EAST REALITIES - www.MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 8/12/00:
Why are things always so depressing and demoralizing when it comes to matters relating to the Middle East and what goes on in Washington about the Middle East? The answers here are multi-dimensinal and obscured behind a thick fog of deception.
Yes, there is the powerful and politically ruthless Israeli/Jewish lobby, that's certainly true. And yes many of the major problems and deceptions can be traced back to the power and money here, as well as to the Mossad and CIA when it comes to manipulating the situation in the region. But the other side of the coin finds the weak and co-opted Arab "client regimes", a number of whom actually work quite closely under-the-table with both Israel and the U.S. -- all the more so since the Gulf War, the end of the Cold War, and "the new world order".
And it is these corrupt and controlled regimes that in turn have set up and control a small group of Arab American "client organizations", most of whom are in Washington DC, the modern-day Rome. For in this "new world order", the ability to manipulate public opinion; to control the "means of information" (as well as the means of production); to twist and influence how people think; and to safely channel the energy, ideas and money of well-meaning people -- these are all important aspects of using and maintaining power in today's world.
A couple of years ago the main activity of the Arab American organizations -- at the time of the 50th anniversay of the war of 1948 which lead to such misery and bloodshed throughout the region -- was a pathetic project known as "the quilt". MER provided unique information and insights into what this was all about, and what should have been done but wasn't, at that time when the Arab American groups did nothing significant but instead drained the energy and time of so many well-meaning persons into nothing more than "the Quilt".
Now, in the midst of historic efforts by the West, this time with Israel in the lead, to recast the Middle East one more time in their image and to their favor -- as has been done before in history including at the Paris Peace Conference of 1918 ("The Peace To End All Peace") which created the "new world order" of that day -- the same group of client organizations has come up with another safe and easy slogan. "The Right of Return" -- T-shirts and bumper stickers now appearing.
Meanwhile the big and important issues -- the very nature of the peace agreement itself; the very structure of power, money, and authority in the Middle East; the huge amounts of bribe money and repression capabilities being given to the Arafat "Authority" and those regimes playing ball; the domination of the American empire of affairs in the region; why Israel and the U.S. are so urgently pushing the Arabs to "sign now" -- all these matters are left untouched. Left untouched precisely because those who really control and manipulate the publicly known Arab American groups want it just that way, which is in fact why they support and promote them.
REFLECTIONS ON THE ARAB AMERICAN SCENE
By Rageb Damian*
On Saturday April 8, 2000, in the auditorium of the Boston University Law School in Boston, MA, a daylong conference titled the Right of Return was held. The conference was organized by a new organization called Trans Arab Research Institute (TARI) -- but it was really the same old failed people and groups from the past.
The conference speeches dealt with the Palestinian refugees’ right of return to their homes in pre-1948 Israel. After the dispossession of the Palestinians in the War of 1948, or the (Nakba) as Arabs call it, the United Nations issued resolution 194 that stated that the refugees of the war had the right to return or be repatriated. The conference was an intensive daylong affair of lecture after lecture, speaker after speaker, who iterated the right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and addressed various issues of importance to the Palestinian situation.
In terms of the information given, one could say that the speakers did
a good job of explaining various details about the Palestinian problem,
dispossession of the Palestinians and challenges the Palestinians face
today. The conference and the conditions that surround it are illustrative
of several realities of the Arab-American scene in the US and how it relates
to the Middle East conflict.
News about the conference had been circulating through e-mail lists and Arab-American organizations-affiliated news groups through the Internet. While the issue is important and key to understanding the Middle East conflict, the little efforts to
accommodate a larger number of people (the total number who attended finally did not exceed 550 people), was disheartening. “TARI is a little organization that cannot do much”, everyone was told. A video “hook-up” was arranged in the few days preceeding the conference to accommodate the rest of the attendees who were seated in an adjacent room to the Boston University School of Law auditorium where the conference was held. By the end of the day the conference had lost more than half the number of people who were there in the morning. As usual, most of the attendees were Arab American and/or people involved with the very Arab American organizations that arranged it.
The conference started with the organizers congratulating each other for holding the conference. The two people linked with of TARI were Mr. Naseer Aruri, the president of TARI, a Palestinian American (Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts) and a lecturer on Palestinian issue and a critic of Arafat’s regime, and Ms. Eleine Musallem Hagobian, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Simons College, Boston, a frequent lecturer at Arab-American conferences. Aruri started by congratulating his colleague for her wonderful work in helping bring about the conference. He then proceeded to criticize the Arafat regime, rightly, for its ruinous effect on the Palestinians.
The big star of the event was the acclaimed Dr. Edward Said, a Palestinian
American Professor at Columbia University, a man whose books and articles
are essential to understanding Palestinian and Arab issues. His lecture
was very interesting and
insightful, explaining the Oslo trap the Palestinians have been led into, and using Palestinian art to explain the Palestinian psyche of dispossession. For a couple of minutes, the slides projector he was trying to use failed to work, visibly frustrating Said, because the organizers couldn't even get that right.
Said however failed to make light of the reality of the Arab American
organizations that use him as the main attraction to their events.
There was not one single comment about the failure of organizations like
the American Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC), and the various
groups that orbit it, in bringing about an Arab American political force
in Washington, DC. Said never fails to keep coming to Arab-American
conferences, if health permits, no matter if the organization hosting him
is effective or not.
The following panel was excellent in terms of putting the Middle East conflict in perspective. It featured Dr. Noam Chomsky, MIT, who put in simple terms the reality of US policy and how futile are attempts to bring justice to the refugees if not accompanied by education and mobilization in the US. He used the Vietnam Anti-War protests as an example of what organizing can do, solutions that Arab American groups have done the exact opposite. Equally illuminating was the next speaker, Dr. Ilan Pappe, University of Haifa, Israel, who spoke about the Israeli public opinion on the right of return. The Le Monde Diplomatique paper journalist Dr. Alain Gresh presented the European Union stance on Palestinian statehood.
The spoil sport was the famous journalist of The Independent Robert Fisk, who derided the Arab American “Lobby” for its laziness, its out of touch with reality, and the luxury with which the organizers attempted to treat him for dinner the previous evening at the Harvard Club, at which he decided not to stay. He rightly expressed his bewilderment of what the relation is between dining him in the fancy (luxurious) Harvard professors dining hall and the right of return for Palestinians languishing in miserable refugee camps. He criticized such a lecture event as useless since as usual, 95% of the attendees are Arab American, and wondered why did not each attendee bring any non Arab American so they could learn about these issues. Half of the attendees applauded. It was later said that Dr. Edward Said was not favorable of Fisk’s remarks about the Arab American “Lobby”; and in fact in subsequent days Said made very derogatory comments about Fisk for daring to speak the truth and try to be helpful.
The conference proceeded for the rest of the day with more lectures about legal and political about the right of return and restitution and issues the Palestinians face in the refugee camps. It was definitely enlightening to learn about all these issues that relate to such a topic. A silent candle light vigil to commemorate the 1947 Deir Yaseen massacre of hundreds of Palestinians by Zionist gangs prior to Nakba was planned somewhere in Boston that evening. No reference was made to the unprecedented statement of opposition to the "peace process" published by Palestinian Intellectuals in the Israeli daily Haaretz a month or so before the conference, to which many of the lecturers were signatory nor was there a handout about it among the many given out there. And Dr. Haidar Abdul-Shafi, the dignified Palestinian personality who headed the Palestinian delegation in Madrid and Washington but then resigned because of what the Arafat regime has become, was not invited for fear he would be too critical.
The segment that included Chomsky, Fisk, Pappe, and Gresh was the best
part of the conference. It put everything in perspective and criticized
the conference itself. Yet little did most people know about the
reality behind this conference and the organizations that sponsor it.
While it is definitely challenging to figure out what is really going on the Arab American scene only from attending the Boston conference, one has to learn about the real objectives of the so-called Arab American “lobby” in order to understand. It is
not just lazy or out of touch with reality, it is deliberately deceptive and aims to waste energy and moral. One has to learn about the Arab elite (in the Middle East and the West) and its many tentacles here in America to understand how all this work together.
To put matters in perspective let us compare the Arab American “Lobby”
to the Pro-Israel Jewish Lobby “AIPAC”. In brief, AIPAC represents
a panoply of Jewish American and Pro-Israeli organizations that lobby,
effectively, the US Administration, the
Congress, and the American media to follow and present a policy favorable to Israel’s current government. AIPAC is pretty powerful and has been so for decades (since 1941). While many Jewish Americans do not consider it representative of their views, it has managed to marginalize those who oppose it through various means such as accusations of anti-Semitism, Jewish self-hatred, etc.
The Arab American “Lobby” on the other hand is different. It does not seriously try to influence the US administration, the congress, nor the US media. Through an organization like the ADC, it tries to fight negative stereotyping of Arabs in films, press, etc. On matters relating to the Palestinian issue, it hides behind simplistic slogans and tiny issues rather than speak about the big picture. You will find it sponsoring an event on Oslo process, but never coming out to condemn the Arafat Reigme for being what it really is, nor the Arab regimes in the area for making possible such a one-sided "peace process". You would find it lamenting the death of Iraqi children under US-backed sanctions, but never condemning Saudi Arabia for allowing the American troops to be stationed there let alone sponsoring an event about that. You sure won’t find it making a public statement about the terrible state of human rights abuses in the Arab World.
WHAT DRIVES THESE GROUPS?
A very good question to ask is who heads these organizations, funds them, and for what purpose. Why do we have ADC, the Boston conference, and why do those intellectuals act the way they do? And why won’t anything come out of this conference?
The key word here is Incest. One interesting way to understand
is by taking a look at all the Arab American organizations’ events throughout
the year and comparing sessions and speakers and organizers with each other,
and then comparing each event to the one the year before. Here is
what we will discover: A lot of the names are the same, many of the
session titles are going to be the same and pretty much will reflect the
political “hot” issue of the year. For example, in 1998, we had variations
of the “50 years of dispossession” commemoration throughout the year.
Dr. Edward Said was invited to speak about fifty years of Palestinian dispossession
at the ADC conference. Last year, he was invited again to speak about
Arab American issues. And most likely, if health permits, he will
be invited and come again this year to speak about the Palestinian right
of return, if not at the ADC, them
maybe at an affiliate of the ADC. The same is true with other speakers.
These conferences are more like entertainment events for Arab Americans than political mobilization events aiming towards political change. The conference in general will promote a tribal mentality as a way to ensure support and eventually plays on the identity problem of those who call themselves Arab American. It will play on the misunderstanding of how US policy works in relation to the Middle East by suggesting that it is a matter of having more Arab Americans in policy positions, or blame it all on the Pro-Israel Jewish Lobby, whose influence is exaggerated for these purposes. There is of course a social aspect to these conferences (old friends get to see each other), which ensures a good show up every year.
As for what happens after these conferences, it is rather depressing.
Of course, keep in mind that the purpose is to mislead rather than direct.
Many students and well-meaning people will get enthusiastic at the information
and messages being
given by the speakers. They will want to do something. Rather than do something on their own and start a real serious organization, they will be mislead into putting their energies into the organization sponsoring the conference and end up chasing
their tail. They will be asked to organize others, write to the president and congress people. The problem is that the themes that the activity is conducted under are vague, misleading, and aimless. It will be something like “promoting Arab American issues” or “making sure the peace process is fair to the Arabs” or “ having more people of Arab American origin in the public offices”.
As for the question of who is behind these conferences and organizations. Definitely, the case of the ADC is illustrative. This organization is headed and pretty much run by the Maksouds and their friends. Dr. Clovis Maksoud, the former representative of the Arab League, an umbrella organization for the Arab regimes, and wife Hala Salam Maskosoud, a nephew of the former 1970’s Lebanese prime Minister Saeb Salam are very much to blame for their corrupting of Arab American organizations such as ADC. Only two years ago ADC activist signed an open letter to Mrs. Maksoud wanting more democracy in the organization and calling the ADC convention tasteless. Not surprisingly, the connections of the former epresentative of the Arab league include the Arab Ambassadors and the Arab businessmen associated with the regimes. Those crowds have an interest in making sure no serious criticism or, may Allah forbid, a mobilization against the dictatorships and corruption of the Arab World is made. Things are kept under control by directing energy towards criticizing Israeli and American policy ad infinitum such as what happens in the Arab Media. The organizers of these events get their pay in the form of residing over an organization and getting to invite their friends each conference to dine and wine and giving awards to each other (for nothing really) while the unsuspecting audience is clapping. Another important side to this is fund raising for their organizations from gullible Arab American and Arabs in the Middle East who think their money is being used to defending Arab causes in America. Of course, the money, like the money the PLO pumped into its US offices in the seventies and eighties is wasted, embezzled, and misused. Within these organizations, an inefficient corrupt system that keeps the honest people away is at work, while the self-serving individuals are kept in power.
THE WIZARD OF OZ
To understand another aspect of this farce, one should think of the Wizard of OZ fable, where the “wizard” at the end was the little man behind the screen appearing to be much bigger than he was, projecting himself not as he really was but how he wanted everyone to believe he was. That is how these groups are constructed.
A helpful exercise is to get a hold of the names of the people who sit on the advisory boards of, main figures involved with, and the people always “recognized” at Arab American events. It is pretty much the same people, and have been the same for the past 15-20 years. The Maksouds are prominent in this. They have used their power and influence to include more groups under them. For example, on the same floor in the same building where the ADC in based in Washington, DC, two more organizations are located: The American Committee on Jerusalem, and the American Arab University Graduates. Since December of 1999, the head of an equally deceptive organization, The National Association of Arab Americans (NAAA), Mr. Khalil Jahshan, has become the vice president of ADC. There is no doubt that we will not be told in the coming ADC convention about why NAAA collapsed and what lessons we will learn from the failure of another Arab American organization. It is more accurate to say that the same people go about under different organizational names in order to fool people and hold more than one conference a year, more dinner parties, and more contributions through attendance fees form gullible members.
Most of these groups are based in Washington, DC and direct their activities
at the Arab Americans in the DC metro area and the larger Arab communities
in the US such as Detroit, Michigan; Chicago, Illinois; San Francisco,
California. Activist Arab American with an urge to do something
political come and spend little time at the conferences, such as Boston’s,
not enough to figure out what is really going out. Some do but feel
unable to do anything. Others get demoralized without realizing why.
Since these groups dominate the scene with no serious alternative, they
get to be considered by the American Media as representative of the Arab
American community and get called on to give their say on TV reports and
Talk shows. More importantly, they are the convenient representatives
of Arab Americans for the Arab press. Therefore the distorted image
of Arab Americans is also played out to the nsuspecting Arabs who lack
any critical news source. Little do Arabs know the effect of the
corrupt Arab system of regimes in having satellite organizations in the
US to further keep the status quo, and keep many in the dark. Since these
groups do some fundraising in the Middle East from gullible Arabs who think
their money is put to good use here in the US, and some such as the regime-allied
businessmen who are comfortable with keeping the status quo, they get to
collect through the same people
monies under the names of different organizations.
What the organizations failed to do in Boston deserves some pointing
out. Rather than invite Dr. Haider Abdul Shafi, a prominent Palestinian
speaker on Palestinian rights to the Boston conference, someone who will
surely speak up about the corrupt Arafat regime, with great credibility,
he was not there at all at the conference, for reasons unclear. In
addition, recent attempts to oppose Arafat were not highlighted by anyone
at the conference such as the petition of the twenty people from Nov. 1999
accusing Arafat of opening the door to corruption. There definitely
was no suggestion of a strategy to follow after the conference or any print
out of stated goals other than the vague aim of supporting the right of
return. May we ask, what is the point of bringing together 550 mostly
Arab Americans, lecture them about the right of return, not preparing any
statement for the media or attempting to go on the
talk shows, and then praising the organizations and their heads? And events of this magnitude will repeat twice or more this year for sure.
It is a reason to wonder really how long this lethargy on the Arab American scene will continue. Isn’t about time Arab American activists told these organizations to stuff it and went on to form their own serious organizations? Isn’t it about time here is a discussion in the mainstream media about the right of return rather than hold a conference 52 years after the fact and keeping it to Arab Americans?
* The author can be reached at Rageb@MiddleEast.Org.
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