Arab-American “Leaders” Meet With Obama Ahead Of Middle East Visit

Obama posters crossed out in occupied Ramallah.

Obama posters crossed out in occupied Ramallah.

As part of an effort to construct and promulgate a public relations narrative in preparation for Barack Obama’s visit to the Middle East, the White House summoned a group of Arab-American “leaders” to a meeting.  Overcome by the lure of being invited to the White House and being part of the mainstream these groups and individuals sacrifice intellectual honesty and personal integrity while adopting all the false pretenses of the American imperial project. 

Barack Obama met with several so called leaders and organizations that allegedly represent Arab and Muslim Americans ahead of his visit to occupied Palestine.  The “Arab-American” groups that attended the meeting were the same unrepresentative, Washington-based cliques that are usually called upon when American politicians need submissive token Arabs to perpetuate the fiction the US government is taking all views into consideration. The groups included the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the two-man American Task Force for Palestine (ATFP), and James Zogby’s one-man shop, the Arab American Institute (AAI).

The ADC considered the meeting “breaking news” and along with the other groups in attendance released the following statement:

We are pleased to have shared with President Obama our recommendations and vital messages that he should convey to the Palestinian people. Today’s meeting was an important opportunity for Arab Americans to share our views, and continue to serve as a bridge between the US and the Arab World. Our meeting underscored the President’s recognition of the importance of our community’s contributions to discussions of policy in the region.

 

The United States, through sustained, balanced, constructive engagement, can facilitate a peaceful, lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—a resolution that is essential to long term security in the Middle East. We thank President Obama for engaging Arab American leaders in this critical dialog, and we look forward to using this meeting as a springboard for robust ongoing conversations on US policy in the Middle East.”

The statement is a perfect illustration of the intellectual dishonesty required of all establishment Arab-Americans and the false pretenses to which they must pledge allegiance before earning an invitation to any event with a US official. To better clarify these false pretenses and the inherent futility in this model of ostensible political advocacy let’s take a closer look at the statement.

It begins as follows:

We are pleased to have shared with President Obama our recommendations and vital messages that he should convey to the Palestinian people.

We’re sure these individuals enjoyed the petty prestige of meeting with Obama but who are they to share any recommendations and messages that should be conveyed to the Palestinian people? Have they been appointed by any Palestinians to speak on their behalf? Do they represent the Palestinian-American community? Do they speak for any Palestinians in occupied Palestine or the diaspora? Are they even aware of what the Palestinians would like to hear from a US president, if anything at all? Are they trained experts in Middle East studies? Or have any insight to offer on Palestinian politics? The answer to all these questions is no.  The omnipresent Zogby, for example, is not Palestinian, does not speak Arabic, and his only exposure to the Palestinian Nakba is a one-hour, 1970’s visit to a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon accompanied by a translator.

Today’s meeting was an important opportunity for Arab Americans to share our views, and continue to serve as a bridge between the US and the Arab World.

This is simply not true.  These organizations and individuals do not represent the views of Arab-Americans and have no significant base of support within the Arab-American community.  Moreover, the strictly defined parameters of acceptable public discourse on Palestine in the US precludes Obama’s guests from sharing the views of Arab-Americans.  These individuals and groups have only a marginal connection to the Arab-American community and are not rooted in the collective Palestinian experience. They were selected solely on the basis of their ability and willingness to strictly follow the official American narrative on Palestine.  And can we please dispense with the old cliché about building bridges. Each time one of these establishment figures attends an event with a US official we’re told they are building bridges between the US and the Arab world.  Most of these individuals are themselves completely alienated from the Arab world and would require someone to hold their hand and help them cross a bridge into any Arab society.

Our meeting underscored the President’s recognition of the importance of our community’s contributions to discussions of policy in the region.

Really? So US foreign policy makers ignore the views of Arab-Americans, 350 million Arabs and 1.5 Billion Muslims only to take the opinions of Zogby, Ziad Asali, the folks at ADC, and a couple of other token US Muslims nobody ever heard of into consideration? This ridiculous notion exists only in the minds of those in attendance at the meeting with Obama.

The United States, through sustained, balanced, constructive engagement, can facilitate a peaceful, lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—a resolution that is essential to long term security in the Middle East.

The glaring dishonesty inherent in such a statement is the idea that the US government represents a beacon of virtue and morality on the global stage and a force for peace in Palestine and the Middle East. These so called Arab-American leaders must engage in this pretense as a requirement for them to earn what Zogby likes to call “a seat at the table.”  This completely ignores the reality that the entire US political establishment continues to be the enabler and protector of the Zionist colonial project in Palestine, supports Israel’s occupation of Arab lands, and is complicit in all of Israel’s crimes. Unconditional and unlimited American political, economic, and military support for Israel enjoys near unanimous, bi-partisan support and is considered an essential component of the US imperial project. No rational, honest observer would suggest this is about to change or that a handful of token Arabs summoned to a White House event to help promulgate a propaganda narrative around a US president’s visit to occupied Palestine will alter US strategic calculations in the Middle East.

We thank President Obama for engaging Arab American leaders in this critical dialog, and we look forward to using this meeting as a springboard for robust ongoing conversations on US policy in the Middle East.”

In other words, we will continue pretending we are Arab-American “leaders” while ignoring the constituency whose collective name we hijacked and claim to represent. We will also continue ignoring the central role the US plays in maintaining the Zionist colonial-settler entity in Palestine and its complicity in all of Israel’s crimes and wars on the Arab world. We also pledge to continue defending the Middle East component of the US imperial project, and all we ask in return is to be invited back in the future.

The various determinants that go into the process of US foreign policy making is beyond the scope of this article. What is obvious, however, is that a select handful of Arab-American opportunists and careerists on the margins of Washington officialdom posing as members of a fictional Arab-American lobby will remain irrelevant to this process.  The only tangible impact these groups and individuals can plausibly claim to have by participating in such events is in helping perpetuate the pretense of an altruistic US foreign policy derived from the myth of American democracy.