The bad news is that the 800 pound gorilla, AIPAC, and its satellite
organizations are pushing it hard.
The House resolution, which will pass on Tuesday, basically endorses
everything Israel did in the horrific Gaza war while bashing Judge Richard
Goldstone for documenting war crimes committed in that war (320 dead
After the vote I’ll post the roll call and you will see that some of your
favorite “courageous” liberals are none too courageous when it comes
to this issue. Some of the very House members who denounce the Iraq war, the
Afghanistan war and God knows how many other US military actions (often
rightly) go mute when it comes to Israel. In fact, most of them do. In other
words, they are courageous when there is no cost for it.
Passing this resolution will damage US security by stating to the world
that when Bibi asks us to jump, we jump even higher. (Note to Congress: Did you
ever consider just saying you don’t agree with Goldstone’s findings or did
AIPAC reject that approach?)
Here is the resolution.
Next week: the names of the Democrats who vote for it, just so you know why
John F. Kennedy would not be writing Profiles in Courage about Congress in the
I doubt they will pass it by voice vote because then they can’t get
“credit” from AIPAC.
James Zogby - On October 25th the Arab American Institute and J Street convened a joint
meeting, that brought leaders and activists from both communities together as
an expression of our shared commitment to advance a just and comprehensive
Middle East peace. Two nights later, my wife Eileen and I had the pleasure of
attending the J Street Gala Banquet. Because it was such an extraordinary
event, I want to share some observations about the night.
First and foremost was the size and composition of the assembled crowd. A week
or so before their conference was to begin, with registration nearing 900, J Street leaders
were still hoping to reach 1000, their announced goal. Then came a wave of
attacks on the group from hardliners in the pro-Israel camp. When I asked a J Street leader
whether the criticism was having an impact, he replied “a little negative,
but a huge positive impact”. Their event, for example, lost about a dozen
of its 160 Congressional sponsors, but retained almost 150. And their
registration swelled to 1,500!
As we entered the room it was clear that spirits were high. Jewish activists
from the left and center of the political spectrum had spent three days in
packed sessions debating policy and program. They had differences, to be sure,
but were of one mind in their commitment to project an alternative pro-Israel,
pro-peace perspective, and to legitimize a U.S. debate on the way forward
As I looked around the room, I realized that I knew many of those present.
Some from Middle East peace work we had done together in the 1990′s, and others
from civil rights and other progressive coalitions in which we had
participated. In his opening remarks, J Street Executive Director Jeremy
Ben-Ami made the observation that while J Street is new, it is made up of
thousands of Jewish political leaders and activists who have long been engaged
in the struggle for peace and justice. What is new is that they have found one
another, and have come together to challenge the status quo–that up until now
has maintained that there is only one way of being pro-Israel
I was reminded of a metaphor Jesse Jackson used back in the 1980′s when he
described the millions of unregistered voters he hoped to empower through his
Presidential campaign. They were, he would say, like “so many stones
laying around” needing only to be put together and built up to become a
wall–an edifice that can provide strength.
I was also struck by the Arabs and Arab Americans who were in attendance,
and the profoundly respectful and gracious reception they (we) were given.
Several Arab ambassadors were there, one of the evening’s emcees was an Arab
American, a video of a message from Jordan’s King Abdullah opened the
session, and our joint Arab American-American Jewish meeting was discussed by
one speaker and greeted with wonderful applause.
An Israeli friend, with whom I had both debated and worked during the 90s,
commented on this Arab presence. She remarked that it was ironic that J Street was being
attacked by hardliners because a few Arab Americans had contributed to the
group, and some Arabs attended their function, at the very moment when these
same hardliners are saying that the Arab world must reach out and declare their
interest in peace. They say, she went on, “we have no partners” but
here are the partners, and yet they criticize us. I think, she concluded, they
don’t want partners.
The content of the night’s program was also quite moving and worthy of note.
The Rabbi who opened the dinner with a prayerful reflection spoke of his
personal attachment to Israel,
the members of his family who survived WWII to find refuge there, and how they
had prospered but still lived in fear and insecurity. He then moved to include
in his prayer concern for the Palestinian people noting that if Jews
acknowledge one God then their compassion and concern for life must be extended
to all mankind, Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Other speakers developed this theme with one of the most eloquent moments of
the night coming when J Street’s Director Ben-Ami spoke of his group’s resolve
to be, “a voice that cares not simply about our people’s destiny but about
the future of the Palestinian people – not just because it is in our interest,
but because Palestinian children deserve a future and freedom, hope and happiness
every bit as much as Jewish children.” His remarks, like those of the
Rabbi, were greeted with applause.
It was also important to note how significant the entire night was for the
dozens of Members of Congress who were in attendance. For those who had long
been advocates of a just peace, they found reinforcement, and for those who
have been afraid to speak out, they were able to see, and hear, the emergence
of an alternative voice that makes debate on Middle East
As one attendee noted, “without exaggeration, this is a
revolution”. The three days, beginning with the joint Arab
American-American Jewish meeting, to the banquet at its conclusion, marks the
birth of a movement and, one hopes, a transformation not only within the Jewish
community’s internal debate, but in Arab American-American Jewish cooperation.
This effort will, no doubt, face obstacles and be challenged by those on all
sides who are locked into old patterns of behavior and destructive ideologies
based on fear of, anger at, and exclusion of “the other”. But, what I
and many others saw over the three days was that a powerful voice has been born
calling for change. And it is new.
In the 1990s, when we came together, we did so because leaders in the White
House pressed us to work together and Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the
White House lawn validated the effort. This time is different. We emerged and
came together on our own, with a will not only to build a partnership, but to
export its spirit to the Middle East despite
the incapacity or unwillingness of Israeli and Palestinian leadership to do so.
Saturday, October 3, I went to Taybeh’s annual Oktoberfest. Taybeh is a
Christian village northeast of Ramallah, home of the Taybeh Brewery that
produces Palestine’s beer, also called Taybeh. Legend has it that Salah al Din (Saladin), the
Kurdish general who drove the Crusaders out of Palestine, visited Taybeh (Biblical Ephraim)
and declared its people to be “Taybeen” (kind folks) due to their generosity
and hospitality. The word Taybeh also means ‘delicious,’ which fits their
golden, preservative-free beer perfectly.
Taybeh, like most Palestinian villages, is made up of white stone houses, schools,
businesses, and places of worship built on a hill with stunning views of
terraced hills and Biblical valleys all around. The picturesque ruins of a
Byzantine church, capped by an ornate white stone cross, mark the center of the
town, and nearby are the City Hall grounds, where a stage had been set up.
Inside City Hall itself, local arts and crafts, colorful embroidery and olive
oil soap, food and wine, honey and beer were being sold.
went to the brewery first. I’d been drinking Taybeh beer for so many years, I
was excited to take a pilgrimage to the source. I’m not sure what I expected
exactly. Perhaps some picturesque cottage with golden skies and waterfalls of
beer pouring carelessly from giant wooden casks. This is what’s on the label,
anyway. Or at least a huge gift shop. It’s the global center of Taybeh beer!
They even have a gratuitous but awesome slogan: “Drink Palestinian. Taste the
Revolution.” Who wouldn’t want a T-shirt with this and their logo on it,
especially knowing it came from mild-mannered Christian beer makers?
brewery was located on a beautiful hilltop, a rather small factory with giant
metal casks mixing and brewing and a small industrial-grade bottling machine.
Even the sign that indicated you had reached the factory was rather
amateurishly hand-painted on the wall. No wooden casks. But I guess the taste
of the beer speaks for itself.
were given a quick tour of the facilities and then invited to the gift shop,
where we could buy beer, wine, olive oil, T-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers, and
post cards. To my disappointment, they didn’t have any “Taste the Revolution”
T-shirts. If anyone in Taybeh is reading this, I think they’d sell like
went back to City Hall, which was crowded with Palestinians and foreigners from
all over the Holy Land. I was particularly
impressed by the number of Palestinian-Israelis who showed up from Jerusalem, Nazareth,
Akka, and elsewhere. They’ve started coming to Nablus to shop on Saturdays, and they’re
always in Ramallah on the weekends taking over our bars and dance clubs.
Whatever your political convictions, on the ground this place is turning more
and more into one state.
it was explicitly a festival celebrating alcohol, it drew a self-selected
crowd. There were a few women in hijab there to see the traditional singing and
dancing, people-watch, and shop. But for the most part it was a
super-concentrated subset of the most liberal and laid-back Palestinians, and
the atmosphere was beautifully calm and happy. Eye candy stretched as far as
the eye could see, with everyone dressed to see and be seen. It felt like the
old days, when I used to walk around Ramallah and know just about everyone. It
was such a friendly party atmosphere and such a good feeling.
stocking up on Christmas presents and touring the Byzantine ruins, I ran into
an old friend from Jayyous and his buddies, and we walked up to the stage,
front and center, and danced for five hours to Palestinian hip hop, traditional
Palestinian music (with drum riffs that practically shake your shoulders for
you), German jazz/ska, and a Palestinian rock-rap band from Jerusalem called
CultureSHOC whose sound was so unique, I don’t think the ‘rock-rap’ label does
it justice (and whose lead singers were such a good-looking couple, it just
didn’t seem fair).
I was at Zan bar in Ramallah with some friends, and the lead singers walked in
and sat at the table next to us. It’s just another of the things I love so much
It’s such a beautifully local scene, yet it has a strong international
component. It’s a microcosm of intensely interesting life with global
implications. You feel like you’re in a small town at the center of the world.
There’s no place quite like it.
caught a service taxi home to Ramallah late at night when the Beer Fest was
over for the day. We agreed that we’d go back the next day for more, but we all
woke up too hung over and exhausted.
well. Looking forward to Taybeh Oktoberfest 2010, inshallah…
It is hard to imagine that the United States Congress can outdo its own
record of rousing support for any and all Israeli actions and policies. But
now, according to a report by Spencer
Ackerman in the Washington Independent, it is preparing to do just that.
Next week the Democratic House is slated to vote on a resolution
- introduced by Howard Berman (chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee),
Gary Ackerman (chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle
East) and two Republicans, Ranking Members Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and
The legislators pushing the resolution say the Goldstone report is unfair
and biased against Israel.
Although the report condemns both Israel
and Hamas for “war crimes,” the representatives take strong issue
with Goldstone’s finding that Israel
took little care to protect civilians during its massive onslaught.
Of course, the numbers themselves support Goldstone. According to B’Tselem,
the Israeli human rights organization, “Israeli security forces killed
1,382 Palestinians during the 22-day military operation. Of those, 774 did not
take part in the hostilities, including 320 minors and 109 women over the age
Number of Israelis killed: 9 (3 by friendly fire).
The resolution ignores those numbers, offering not even a word of sympathy
to those who were killed.
t is hard to imagine that Speaker Nancy Pelosi or George Miller, chair of
the House Democratic Policy Committee, will permit this resolution to come to
floor. Both have worked for decades to promote America’s role as honest broker
between Israelis and Palestinians and a more balanced policy toward the Muslim
But passing this resolution will remove any illusion that the United States
can serve as mediator in the conflict. It also will send a message to Arabs and
Muslims worldwide that our much proclaimed human rights ideals do not apply to
them. That will hardly help us in Iraq,
or anywhere else in the Muslim world. This resolution can be opposed on national
security grounds alone.
Does any of this matter to the House members who are pushing this resolution
or the majority likely to vote for it? Many of them will likely be liberals too
who have rightly criticized actions by our own country in Iraq, Afghanistan
or wherever, some going all the way back to Vietnam. Why this exception?
On the same day that news came of the Congressional resolution, Ken
Silverstein of Harper’s
interviewed Desmond Travers, one of the four members of the United Nations
Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, which produced the Goldstone Report.
Travers is a retired colonel in the Irish army who commanded troops with in
various UN and EU peace support missions. Excerpts follow.
Silverstein to Travers: “Were you surprised by the criticism of the
Travers: “There was a lot of criticism even before the report came out,
primarily against individuals, especially Justice Richard Goldstone. So we were
not unduly surprised by the whinging when the
report was released, except for the intensity and viciousness of the personal
attacks. Justice Goldstone has publicly invited the critics, especially within
government, to come forward with substantive evidence of incorrect or
inaccurate statements. But there has been no credible criticism of the report
itself or of the information elucidated in it.
Silverstein: Critics have also said that Hamas deliberately inserted its
fighters among civilians and that doing so increased the civilian toll. Did you
find that to be the case?
Travers: We found no evidence that Hamas used civilians as hostages. I had
expected to find such evidence but did not. We also found no evidence that
mosques were used to store munitions. Those charges reflect Western perceptions
in some quarters that Islam is a violent religion. Gaza is densely populated and has a labyrinth
of makeshift shanties and a system of tunnels and bunkers. If I were a Hamas
operative the last place I’d store munitions would be in a mosque. It’s not
secure, is very visible, and would probably be pre-targeted by Israeli
surveillance. There are a many better places to store munitions. We
investigated two destroyed mosques-one where worshippers were killed-and we
found no evidence that either was used as anything but a place of worship.
There is a sinister and foolish notion among certain proponents of
insurgency warfare that to fight an insurgency means that civilians will
inevitably be killed. But if you give the state authority to be indiscriminate
with the lives of civilians in pursuing insurgents, it plays into the hands of
the insurgents. Dead bodies are grist to the insurgents’ mill: if the dead are
on your side they represent insurgent victories and if the dead are on their
side then they have martyrs.
Silverstein: What other issues do you think need to be addressed
We were disturbed by the lethality and toxicity of weapons used in Gaza,
some of which have been in Western arsenals since the Cold War, such as white
phosphorous, which incinerated 14 people, including several children in one
attack; flechettes, small darts that are designed to tumble upon entering human
flesh in order to cause maximum damage, strictly in breach of the Geneva
Convention; and highly carcinogenic tungsten shrapnel and dime munitions, which
contain tungsten in powder form. There is also a whole cocktail of other
problematic munitions suspected to have been used.
There are a number of other post-conflict issues in Gaza that need to be addressed. The land is
dying. There are toxic deposits from all the munitions that have been dropped.
There are serious issues with water-its depletion and its contamination. There
is a high instance of nitrates in the soil that is especially dangerous to
children. If these issues are not addressed, Gaza may not even be habitable by World
Health Organization norms.”
It is not a surprise that the Israeli government does not want its tactics
criticized. But it is a travesty when Israel’s
friends in Congress join Israel
in that resistance to criticism. 320 children were killed and the House will go
on record criticizing not those deaths but those who say they should never have
The House resolution needs to be stopped or re-written so that its purpose
is not to shoot the messenger but to condemn violence directed at civilians by
in the offices of the Arab American News newspaper in Dearborn
Michigan, the capitol of America’s Arab
are about 100 Arab newspapers in this country but the Arab American news is one
of the few and maybe the only one that has its own building and a fulltime
staff that churns out a newspaper not once a month, not once every two weeks
but every week.
is the deadline and Osama Siblani is working with a full staff of reporters to
finish the layout for the latest edition which goes to the press tonight and
will be distributed throughout Michigan, the
Midwest and other cities across the United States.
big news today is the killing of an African American Imam at a mosque in nearby
Detroit by the
FBI. Six of the imam’s followers were arrested. The incident involved a
shootout between the members of the mosque and the FBI agents who charged the
Imam was planning to organize violent attacks against American targets.
American press is all over it but the Arab American news, which publishes in
Arabic and English, better understands the issues of Islam and the differences
between Sunni’s, Shi’ites and the African American Islamic sects.
Arab American News is located on Chase off Ford Avenue in the heart of Dearborn’s
30,000 Arabs and Muslims. The newspaper is celebrating its 25th year
and is distinguished by publishing one fresh edition every week that is never
under 48 pages.
issue is 52 pages but the largest we have published is 72 pages,” Siblani says
between directing the editing of a story and its placement and my queries from
a nearby desk.
is also the president of the Arab American Political Action Committee, which
celebrates its 12th Anniversary tonight with a banquet where I will
be performing standup comedy and satire on American politics, Arab American
life and culture.
typewriter keys on five computers are buzzing. It reminds me of my days working
as the City Hall reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times back in the 1980s and
1990s. It’s all done electronically these days. In the old days, we’d call our
stories in and dictate the sentences over the telephone. Now, the stories are
typed and typeset all in one motion using complex software.
Dearborn is unique for
many reasons. It is the one place where all the different Arab sub-groups at
least pretend to get along. In Chicago,
they stay apart. In Los Angeles,
they separate themselves by country clubs. But in Dearborn, they all come together because they
recognize that the simple formula for empowerment that power starts at the
grass roots level, not at the top offices of the President or the U.S.
a result, dozens of candidates, including many of Arab heritage, Muslim and
Christian, are running for election in Michigan’s
general election Tuesday, November 3.
get this amazing sense of cultural Arab pride when I drive through Dearborn and see the
billboards with Arab names and Arabic writing. Every corner has an Arab
restaurant, shop or retail establishment.
names of the candidates vary and represent what every other community continues
to try to achieve, complete diversity.
benntt. Rose Mary Robinson. Mohamed Okdie. John O’Reilly. Hussein Berry. Abdul Algazali
and Abdalla Awwad. The big candidate is Ali Sayed, a life-long Dearborn
resident only 28 years old who is seeking a position on the Dearborn City
council. The list of candidates names running for the Dearborn City Council are
all Arab except one, Brian O’Donnell.
candidates will be feted at the AAPAC dinner and their slogan this year is one
that only Dearborn
has been able to achieve: “Strength in Unity.”
the street from the newspaper’s offices is the country’s only Arab Museum.
Arab living in America
should make one trip to this city at least to see with their own eyes what true
Arab involvement in American society could be like someday in their cities.
inspirational. And I’ll leave with a sense of where Chicago’s divided and distraught American
Arab community might one day reach. I hope other cities will also do the same.