Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Law School Hosts Arab American Activist, Former U.S. Diplomat

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Law School Hosts Arab American Activist, Former U.S. Diplomat

Article excerpt

The David A. Clarke School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia hosted a March 20 panel discussion on "Democracy in the Middle East" with Ambassador James Akins, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and Dr. Hussein Ibish, communications director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Ambassador Akins addressed the current debate within the Bush administration as to the possibility of a military campaign against Iraq. If the Bush administration plans to launch military attacks on Iraq in the context of promoting a "war of liberation," he said, it can only do so by fighting on the ground. He was quick to point out that Americans will be unwilling to tolerate any American casualties, especially when some are not convinced that Saddam Hussain poses an immediate national security threat.

The ambassador also warned against a continued escalation of Washington's clear unwavering bias toward Israel. Israeli settlements were described as "illegal" until Reagan's presidency, he pointed out, when they became "obstacles to peace," then, under Clinton, "issues to be discussed."

Ambassador Akins sharply criticized former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who arbitrarily revoked internationally recognized laws pertaining to the conflict by stating that all previous United Nations resolutions are negotiable. In addition, he contended, her indifference to the calamity of Iraqi suffering under the sanctions regime revealed a stunning level of racism. "The only racism tolerated in America," Akins added, "is anti-Semitism--provided that the Semites are Arabs."

The ambassador concluded by noting that the United States has a poor record of understanding Islam, using a "crusader" mentality--which usually backfired--to deal with various issues in the region.

Dr. Ibish stated that talk of democracy in the Middle East has to make a clear distinction between the situation in Israel and the occupied territories on one hand, and the rest of the Arab world on the other. Israel remains the only democracy in the Middle East, he stated, but clarified that its democracy is restricted to its internationally recognized borders and to its Jewish majority. Discrimination against the Palestinian population is rampant, he said. Although Palestinians residing within the 1948 borders can vote, and some in fact are even members of the Israeli Knesset, the power structure remains entirely Jewish, Ibish asserted.

"Israeli democracy" faces a formidable test, he added, as everyone watches the current trial of Palestinian Knesset member Azmi Bishara. Bishara was stripped of his parliamentary immunity and charged with treason for speaking in support of the Palestinian right to an independent state and his support for Lebanese resistance to Israel's recently-ended occupation of southern Lebanon.

There is no doubt that Israel is a racially segregated country, Ibish stated. There, he argued, one's religion determines access to land ownership, social services, housing, and a wide array of necessities. He labeled this "the most pervasive and systemized infrastructure of racial discrimination." Ultra Jewish Orthodox communities receive financial benefits despite the fact that they don't serve in the army, said Ibish, while Palestinian Muslims and Christians are denied the same subsidies. Palestinians living in the occupied territories outside Israel's Green Line, Ibish pointed out, enjoy no political enfranchisement, no state, and no system to reform within their land. …

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