A Worrisome Portrayal

Article excerpt

A Worrisome Portrayal The Arab Lobby, by Mitchell Bard, HarperCollins, 2010, 412 pp.

In January 2011, a group of distinguished ex-legislators and diplomats sent a letter to President Obama1 advocating a new American policy in the Middle East. In effect, they called on Obama to impose a solution on the Israelis and the Palestinians. The writers objected to "Israel's occupation, the relentless enlargement of its settlements, its dispossession of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, and the humanitarian disaster caused by its blockade of Gaza that are the target of international anger and condemnation." Who are these hoary Washington fixtures and what were their motives?

The answer can be found in The Arab Lobby, Dr. Mitchell Bard's in-depth examination of the powerful anti-Israeli pressure group that has been pushing its policies in Washington for more than sixty -five years, often from within the State Department itself. The book explains the backgrounds and motives of these lobbyists, many of whom were former diplomats, oil company executives, high-priced lawyers, and public relations spinmeisters.

Bard points to a change in the standing of Arab states in Washington in 1978, when President Jimmy Carter undermined Israel's strategic military advantage by offering Saudi Arabia F- 15 fighter bombers. "The Arabs invested] in foreign agents," Bard notes. "Twenty-five agents [were] lobbing on the Saudis' behalf for the F- 15 sale."

As a senior staffer for AIPAC working against the sale at the time, this author finds Bard's analysis particularly accurate. He adds: "the [pro-] Israel lobby. . . faced a formidable enemy, national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, [who] was seen as the architect of the arms package." Brzezinski, thirty -three years later, was one of the signers of the January 2011 letter to Obama. Such are the personal agendas of Washington's "Elders of Anti-Zion."

After 9/11, Saudi Arabia had reached rock bottom in American public opinion. Contrary to the popular song, however, money can buy you love. Bard reports on the full-court press conducted by the Saudis today with their many high-paid Washington foreign agents and PR firms, mega-grants to American universities and Middle East studies centers, and sponsorship of Wahabi Islamic instruction and indoctrination in American mosques, private schools, and even prisons.

He aptly describes the traditional weakness of the Arab American component of the Arab lobby. Their members were often at odds over the same issues that divide the Arab world - Shiite vs. Sunni, Muslim vs. Christian, Lebanon vs. Syria, and so on. The National Association of Arab Americans and the American-Arab AntiDiscrimination Committee were too often seen as "against" Israel, particularly U.S. aid for it, and not "for" their Arab homelands. Washington as a whole, and Congress in particular, like to support causes, not oppose them.

Yet, as Bard points out, the Arab American organizations have been displaying a new sophistication in their presentations, branding, and messages. Bard does not, however, discuss the role played by Lebanese American activist James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute. Zogby also founded the Palestine Human Rights Campaign in Washington in the 1970s, but the organization reportedly began to attract U.S. Justice Department attention for its ties to Libya's foreign agent in Washington, Zogby 's mentor Richard Shady ac, and to the PLO office in the capital. Zogby moved to Chicago for a few years, possibly until investigations cooled off. There he met Jesse Jackson and other political activists; Zogby recruited among the Arab American community to support Jackson and became very active in the National Democratic Committee.

Zogby returned to Washington and founded the Arab American Institute (All) in 1985. Today he serves as its president and heads the organization National Arab Americans for Obama. …