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MER WEEKEND READING - WASHINGTON SCENE:
ARAB AMERICAN ORGANIZATIONS CONSTANTLY DEPRESS AND DEMORALIZE
THOSE WHO GET INVOLVED WITH THEM
"I have now totally given up on Arab
organizations doing anything truly
worthwhile on behalf of the Palestinians."
"The 'Right of Return' conference
was a disaster."
MID-EAST REALITIES - www.MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 6/2/00:
The region itself has corrupt and incompetent "client regimes", now including that of Yasser Arafat. And that explains a great deal why such an important and rich part of the world with over 200 million people is so regularly humbled and bleeding.
And in the U.S., the only superpower these days, these same client regimes have their "client organizations", petty caricatures of themselves...all squabbling, incompetent, corrupt, scorned, and in a sense "kept women" (as much as we dislike the sexual stereotype, nevertheless reality oftentimes is hurtful and the phrase connotes the realities of the situation).
It's somewhat contorted as an analogy, we know, but even so the western powers set up and maintain the "client regimes" in the region, and then these same regimes maintain their "client" spokesman and organizations working on their behalf and speaking for them to the media in the U.S. Quite a cozy little circular arrangement; and woe to anyone who tries to speak up, as the courageous journalist Robert Fisk recently found out (read on).
Most importantly, this arrangement prevents the truly independent, knowledgeable, and principled voices from being heard. Or, if someone with integrity and principle is given a small platform once and awhile, it is always in a very controlled and limited way, restricted to "safe" subjects.
The stories about these organizations and their bumbling ways are legend
The names Zogby, Maksoud, Sharabi, Jahshan, Al-Amoudi, are all well-known to those involved with Middle East affairs. These personalities dominate the small and weak organizations that exist and they seem to hang on forever with de facto life-time appointments no matter how much they bumble and screw-up. For the only real criteria that counts it seems is their loyalty to the powers that be and their continuing to do the bidding of those who take care of them.
Just like back home in the Arab world these organizations are terribly ingrown, incestuous, and self-congratulating; all staffed by relatives, incompetents, and "yes-men" (and women) of various types. Hala Maksoud and James Zogby, mentioned in the article that follows, are among the worst and most despicable; precisely because they have so much backing from the "client regimes" and their associated groups and persons.
Indeed, in Arab American affairs these personalities and the various organizations they in turn control act as energy and resource sponges soaking up the concerns, monies, and hopes of many well-meaning but all-too-often naive Arab Americans who have no where else to go and know little of what is really going on. They come, they join, they become demoralized, they burn-out or give up; the same pattern repeats itself all the time.
The regimes keep their organizations on short leashes, constantly requiring them to come and visit to get their regularly allowances; and in turn the organizations keep those who get involved with them on shorter leashes, cutting them lose if they should get too energetic or critical, and working overtime to discredit and frustrate anyone who dares speak up and criticize after finding out how badly they have been used and abused.
This article, from a very committed American Jewish activist who has
repeatedly proven her determination and commitment for many years, is just
the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to this subject.
TRYING TO WORK WITH ARAB AMERICAN ORGANIZATIONS -- WHAT AN EXPERIENCE!
By Shifra Stern*
In November last year the
Israeli "peace" prime minister Ehud Barak
nominated former Brigadier General Amos Yaron for the position of
Director-General of the Defense Ministry.
General Yaron was deeply
implicated in the Sabra/Shatila Massacre of
September 1982. Below is a brief summary of the war crimes and crimes
against humanity committed by Yaron:
On September 16,  then Brigadier General Amos
Yaron, acting under
orders from the Israeli Ministry of Defense under General Ariel Sharon,
allowed Phalangist troops to enter the refugee camps even though the same
troops had previously engaged in massacres of Palestinians living in Lebanon.
The killing at the refugee camps went on for three
days. During nighttime
Phalangist operations, Yaron's troops fired illumination rounds so that
Phalangists could continue their bloody work. Israeli troops, under the
command of Yaron, blocked the exits of the camps to prevent the refugees from
escaping and supplied the Phalangists with at least one bulldozer, which was
used to cover bodies with rubble.
According to the official Israeli Commission of Inquiry
into the massacre
(the so-called Kahan Commission), Yaron, who was present on the roof of the
IDF forward command post overlooking the Shatila camp on the evening of
September 16, knew then that women and children were being killed by
Phalangist militiamen who had entered the camps by prior arrangement with the
Israeli military. Not until the morning of September 18 did Yaron move to
end the killings. . . . In his testimony to the Kahan Commission, Yaron said
he was "happy" about the decision to send the Phalangist forces into the
refugee camps because "the fighting serves their purposes as well, so let
them participate and not let the IDF do everything."
I was so incensed that the "peace" Prime Minister
Barak would appoint a
war criminal to a post in his government, that I decided to mount a campaign
against this nomination. I've never dealt before with previous Arab
organizations but felt that certainly they would be interested in my
campaign. The first group I contacted was the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination
Committee, the ADC. I spoke with a woman (whose name escapes me) for a few
minutes trying to explain to her the reason for my call. She finally
realized that this was quite an important matter so she connected me with
the President herself Mrs. Maksoud. After I repeated to Mrs. Maksoud why I'm calling, I was stunned by her reaction. She said that while of course she
thought this was an important matter, there was nothing the ADC could do,
adding that the ADC does not tell other governments what to do, and no, the
ADC could not issue a press release regarding the appointment of Yaron, that
the ADC is there to serve Arab Americans who face discrimination, and on and
on. She didn't even care enough to refer me to some other organization. I
found our exchange rather strange. Here I am the Jewess, the expected enemy,
and I'm trying to convince an Arab woman that 2-3 thousand dead Palestinians
and an Israeli war criminal ought to matter.
I then contacted James Zogby's group, the Arab
American Institute (AAI).
His assistant told me that Dr. Zogby was attending a conference but that he
would certainly be interested in the material I have on Yaron. I sent Zogby
my extensive file on Yaron and I called back a couple of weeks later to follow
up with his assistant. He assured me that Dr. Zogby was quite impressed with
my material but of course there was nothing he could do. They too would not
even issue a press release -- no help, not even a little encouragement!
Sometime in December I was informed that General
Yaron would be in
Washington to discuss US military aid to Israel. In a nutshell: it took me
several hours and many phone calls to Israel to track down who exactly Yaron
was going to be meeting. My intention was to organize a demonstration and
get someone to ask Yaron on camera about his actions during the Sabra/Shatila
massacre. Since I live in NY, I couldn't make the arrangements myself so I
contacted another Arab group, called American Muslims for Jerusalem. We
spent a lot of time making the arrangements and finally all seemed set for
the demonstration. The day of the demonstration I called them just to check
that everything was in order. The President of AMJ apologized and said that
he couldn't find someone with a camera. Apparently, the cameraman he
scheduled decided that he had something better to do. I was flabbergasted.
I told him surely you can find someone else with a camera. The end result
was that there was no demonstration, no camera to interview Yaron, no questions
After these encounters I concluded that Arab organizations
inept, indifferent, or both. But to prove that I may be wrong, I decided to
go to "Right of Return Conference" sponsored by still another Arab American
organization and being held in Boston in February. My hope was that there
really is an Arab organization that knows how to get its act together.
At first things seemed organized enough until you
entered the lecture
hall which was stifling hot. How I thought could they not think of arranging
for air conditioning in case it would be a warm day, especially since there
were several hundred people in attendance? Plus, after months and months of
telling everybody about the conference it wasn't so surprising that some
hundreds of people came. But instead of getting a larger, better, and more
appropriate place to host such an important event (or at least important
subject), the organizers just didn't seem to care and so others who wanted
to attend either the conference, or the dinner the night before, were told
they were "full".
One of the first speakers was Prof. Edward Said.
As part of his lecture
he intended to show some slides. The slides were not only out of order but
the most important one wasn't even there. Said was absolutely exasperated.
He was practically screaming at the guy why he couldn't get things right.
It was a sad scene to watch. Because of his devastating illness it was a
major effort for Said to come in the first place. And then for them to
screw up his slides so badly!
One of the other speakers was British journalist
Robert Fisk. He
criticized the Arab organizations and called them lazy. Instead of them
taking this to heart, his comments created a storm and many attacked him.
True, Fisk (I believe unintentionally) ended up attacking all Arabs, and
true, his tone was very self righteous. But I thought he was absolutely
right when he asked the audience (predominantly Arab) whether they didn't
have non-Arabic friends who might be interested in the Palestine/Israel
issues. Why, he wondered out loud, aren't Arabs able to reach beyond their
community. Fisk claimed that whenever he's invited to affairs organized
by Arabs, the audience is always without fail predominantly Arab Americans.
In fact, I turned around to my friend and told her that I thought she and
I were the only Jews there.
There were four panels and after the second panel,
almost half of the
audience just walked outside for fresh air. The heat was becoming
unbearable. There were too many speakers for one day. When the lectures
were finally over, they had a dinner/banquet at 6:00. The banquet was held
about a mile and a half from the convention site. You would think they would
have had public transportation to get the people over. There were none.
Some took cabs, and many didn't even know where to go so they just left.
A friend of mine told me he thought the conference
was a disaster. I
asked him why he felt that way. Because, he said, "it was done in a vacuum."
It had no connection to anything. I firmly agreed.
I have now totally given up on Arab organizations
doing anything truly
worthwhile on behalf of the Palestinians. Between the oppression and
horrible sellout by Yassar Arafat and the PA, and the inept Arab
organizations here in the States, I'm afraid that the plight of the
Palestinians looks bleaker than ever.
* The author, a legal secretary in New York, can be reached
at Shifra@MiddleEast.Org and by message left at 202 362-5266.
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