Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Congressman Nick J. Rahall, II: An Expert on Middle East Affairs

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Congressman Nick J. Rahall, II: An Expert on Middle East Affairs

Article excerpt

Congressman Nick J. Rahall, II: An Expert on Middle East Affairs

The hills of southern West Virginia might seem an unlikely breeding ground for a strong defender of the territorial integrity, unity and sovereignty of Lebanon and firm supporter of a just peace in the Middle East, but that is the home of Congressman Nick Rahall. Rahall is a third-generation Lebanese American. His grandfather and namesake, Nicholas, came to the U.S. from Kfier, Lebanon, in 1903, settling in Beckley, WV, where he began a pack-peddling business. Since then, the family has remained in Beckley, where Nick Rahall was born and raised, and has branched out into the retail, real estate, and broadcasting fields. Nick received his B.A. degree from Duke University and worked as a staff assistant to Senator Robert Byrd before his own successful run for Congress in 1976.

Rahall has traveled frequently to Lebanon as well as to Israel and several other countries in the Middle East. Most recently he traveled with congressional delegations to Israel in June 1995, and separately to Lebanon in August 1995. In Lebanon, although he met with President Hrari, Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Sfeir, and other senior government and military officials and businessmen, the high point of his trip was a visit with his son to their ancestral village of Kfier, where he received a hero's welcome.

A Democrat, Rahall is unopposed in the November elections, and will return for an 11th term representing West Virginia's third congressional district. We asked him whether he had ever been targeted by the Israeli lobby because of his voting record against foreign aid and his reputation for promoting U.S. interests over those of Israel.

He replied that he couldn't really say that he had. "For the most part, they recognize that I am of Lebanese descent and that I am proud of it," he explained. Rahall rarely fails to quote the Lebanese American for whom he had the greatest respect, Danny Thomas, the patron saint of St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital: "He who denies his heritage has no heritage."

Rahall acknowledged, however, that his frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with Arab officials, especially the meetings he held with Yasser Arafat when few others would, have triggered opposition from the American Jewish community. Although there have been contributions to some of his opponents by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel's principal lobby in Washington, DC, he considers that to be a legitimate part of our electoral process. "I have Arab-American contributions and I have Jewish-American contributions as well. This is all part of our process today. My main concern is that no member of Congress allow such contributions from any one ethnic group to deter him or her from always acting in America's best interest first."

Outdated Travel Ban

Rahall serves as an honorary member on the board of directors of the American Task Force for Lebanon and has been a leader in congressional efforts to get the Clinton administration to lift the travel ban on Lebanon (see "Congress Watch," p. 20). He points out that while the original intent in the mid-1980s was valid, today the travel ban is outdated. While it is not hurting Lebanon or any other country in the region, it is hurting Americans.

"It's an American jobs issue, and it makes us a laughing stock in the eyes of the rest of the world," Rahall said. …

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