Every year in April James Zogby’s one-man shop, the Arab-American Institute (AAI), holds its annual “Spirit of Humanity” Awards Gala. The AAI states that it “established the Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards to recognize those whose commitment to our common humanity is a living reflection of the spirit the great Lebanese-American poet.” OK. Well, for the past five years the Al-Thani family dictatorship that has ruled Qatar with an iron fist since its establishment has held Mohammed Al-Ajami in jail for the crime of poetry. During these five years, and previously, the embassy of Qatar in Washington DC has been one of the main sponsors of the annual “Gibran Gala” as Zogby likes to call it. What the Ikhras Shoe-Of-The-Month award winner claims his annual event was established to celebrate is a crime punishable by imprisonment by one of the main sponsors of the event. Zogby has been on the payroll of the Arab oil-Sheikhs (or “shakes” as he calls them) for decades and his hypocrisy comes as no news to anyone. He also enjoys the largess of the Saudi-Wahhabi regime and the United Arab Emirates who will also be sponsoring his “Gibran Gala” next month. For the past two years Zogby, for unexplained reasons, has stopped releasing the names of the sponsors and underwriters of the annual AAI flagship event. We believe this decision was taken as a direct result of ikhras’ highlighting of the “Gibran Gala” sponsors. Zogby is clearly on the defensive about his links to the GCC embassies and the funding he receives from these tyrannical regimes. There is no need for Zogby to feel defensive. He is entitled to maintain relations with any regime and embassy he chooses, but he has no right to do so in the collective name of the Arab-American community. We do not expect Zogby to cut ties to his benefactors which will most assuredly lead to the same fate as Ziad Asali and the American Task Force on Palestine. We do, however, call on Zogby to remove “Arab-American” from the name of his shop.
The Arab-American Institute (AAI) is set to honor NYU President and fanatic Zionist John Sexton at its upcoming annual gala on April 29, 2015. AAI President Jim Zogby, winner of the ikhras shoe-of-the-month award, will be presenting Sexton with an “Award for Individual Achievement.” Sexton has come out in strong opposition to the growing boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign (BDS) against the Israeli settler colony, specifically the academic boycott of Israeli institutions. Sexton is also known for leading the effort to silence Palestine solidarity activism on the NYU campus. It was also under Sexton’s leadership that the loud voices condemning BDS under the guise of defending “academic freedom” fell silent when Israel banned a Palestinian from traveling to the US to participate in its own “Paths to Peace” program. Despite his support for Israeli repression, opposition to BDS, and failure to defend academic freedom Zogby describes Sexton as “a man who combines rare qualities of academic leadership with a keen commitment to global education.”
Palestinian-American Zionist, anti-Arab racist, homophobe (See “Hanania Emails Scandal”), failed comedian, Radio Talk Show host (but only because he buys his own airtime), former ADC National Board member , former Jerusalem Post columnist, and Ikhras Shoe Of The Month Award winner Ray Hanania is calling on Arab-Americans to join the pro-Israel lobby. According to Hanania, J Street, the racist, anti-Arab organization dedicated to the destruction of at least 78% of Palestine, “has given American Arabs who support peace based on compromise someplace to go.” Hanania considers J Street to be the “moderate”, “pro-peace” voice within the pro-Israel lobby which we’re supposed to believe stands in stark contrast to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which Hanania says “has actively opposed peace.” In his typically confused, incoherent fashion, he goes on to invoke the model of the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) which he characterizes as the only “major” (it consists of two people and a Washington DC office kept open with generous support from Arab oil-Sheikhs) Arab-American organization “that actively supports the two-state solution” without mentioning the ATFP proudly flaunts its collaborative relationship and alliance with AIPAC. Hanania specifically mentions Ziad Asali, giving the ATFP head a nod of approval. Asali, another recipient of the Ikhras Shoe of the Month Award, joined Hanania on that honor roll after becoming the only Palestinian in the world to celebrate “Israel Independence Day.”
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).
Ikhras was pleased to learn that Omar Baddar has left his position as New Media Coordinator at the Arab-American Institute (AAI). While we’re unaware of the circumstances surrounding Omar’s departure from James Zogby‘s AAI we believe this can only be viewed as a welcome development. Despite our fundamental disagreements with Omar we have always believed that he, unlike the other establishment Arab-Americans, showed a great deal of sincerity despite his misguided approach to political activism. We hope that Omar’s departure from AAI will be an opportunity for him to remove the political shackles of Washington and join the rest of us shunned miscreants that refuse to cater their political activism and discourse to American political sensibilities. We believe Omar has a great deal to contribute to issues of concern for the Arab-American community, first, and foremost, the liberation of Palestine and ending US-Israeli wars on the Arab world. This will require not only leaving AAI but also leaving behind the model of futile political activism associated with this organization. We also hope that with Omar’s departure from AAI he will also leave behind his previous hostility towards ikhras. We look forward to a new relationship in the future, and wish him very best.
The ADC did not name the underwriters and sponsors of their convention on their website, but according to their program the event was underwritten by the Saudi Embassy, and sponsored by the Qatari and United Arab Emirates diplomatic missions. James Zogby‘s “Gibran Gala” last month was also underwritten by the Saudi embassy.
James Zogby is assuring everyone that a wave of democracy and freedom uprisings across the Arab world will not reach the Arabian Gulf states, the American oil-colonies are stable, and business confidence remains high:
WASHINGTON // Business confidence in the Gulf region remains high despite the revolutions convulsing parts of the broader Middle East and North Africa. And the major concerns of business leaders in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are external macroeconomic shocks rather than domestic political turmoil.
Those are the conclusions of a new Oliver Wyman-Zogby International poll released on Monday and presented in Washington at a reception held by the UAE, Saudi and Qatar-US business councils.
Zogby goes even further claiming labor rights and democracy are not even a priority in those societies, and people can live without it:
Labour reform, Mr Zogby said, meant access to labour rather than labour rights. Political reform in the three countries was the least of the business leaders’ concerns.
“Executives don’t feel governments need an election to get to education and labour reform,” Mr Zogby said.
The results of Zogby’s polling of a small business elite conducted on behalf of his friends in the region may not be inaccurate, but they hardly represent the views of the general population. The brutal Saudi regime continues to be the most repressive regime in the world, and the only one that openly rejects democracy in principle and considers peaceful protests a “sin against God.”
The regime also continues its crackdown on peaceful protesters in Bahrain on behalf of its monarchist counterparts. Zogby came out in support of the Saudi assault on peaceful protesters in Bahrain that apparently are more concerned with freedom and democracy than they are with the business environment. If people were not rising up demanding freedom and democracy why would the Saudi regime unleash its security forces against its own population and send reinforcements to help the equally thuggish Bahraini regime violently put down a peaceful democratic uprising?
In the past Zogby has described Bahrain as a “beacon of democratic reform” and continues to describe Saudi Arabia as a state engaged in some uniquely Wahabi process of evolving reform. Zogby’s “Gibran Gala” last month was sponsored by Saudi Aramco and the Saudi embassy in Washington DC with each donating a minimum of $100,000.
This article was first published on the Arab-American, variety website KABOBfest on May 29, 2011. The article appears as a critique of Ikhras’ response to the AAI media coordinator’s previous attack piece , but also addresses what the writer apparently perceives to be the overall, general approach Ikhras has taken to covering the activities of the select few within the Arab and Muslim American communities we have been following.
“Of course, one of the unintended negatives of the Ikhras specialization is that they shift the Saracen focus onto the bad apples, but offer their readers very little information on the good ones…There is also another dangerous pit that Ikhras (and others) could fall into — in the course of exposing the dishonest and counter-revolutionaries, we might end up discovering that there actually isn’t a single Saracen who can ever live up to our standard of honesty and devotion to the cause…What Baddar was clearly saying in his piece, which Ikhras completely failed to address and instead went onto their only area of expertise — reminding us why house-Arabs like Zogby must shut up (which he should) — was that perhaps the most effective way to further the Saracen cause for some is to engage the enemy in their own arena…”
The writer of the recent article titled “Confronting the Needless Hostility Within” which first appeared on the Arab-American website Kabobfest is the media coordinator at James Zogby’s outfit, the Arab American Institute (AAI). Although the vitriolic attack piece was aimed at Ikhras it can only be received and understood as an attempt by a Zogby team member to defend and justify continuing the repeatedly and demonstrably failed approach to political “activism” pursued for decades by the AAI, its president, and the cliquish cast of characters that comprise the mythical Arab-American Lobby in Washington.
We at Ikhras have always recognized the right of all Arab-Americans to engage in any form of political activism they choose, but we do not recognize a right for any single individual or empty shell organization whose board members outnumber their grassroots membership to speak in the name of the entire Arab-American community. What appears to have riled up Zogby’s toady is that we have exercised our own right to criticize the exploitation of our ethnicity and heritage by unprincipled careerists, and condemned their routine and callous disregard of the US government’s purveying of violence in the Arab world in consideration of personal or “organizational” interests in Washington.
If this handful of individuals is truly interested in engaging the political establishment, a futile approach in our opinion, rather than launching vicious attacks on a long overdue, sorely needed Arab-American voice criticizing their opportunism and decades old record of continuous failure, they should allocate their time to building authentic, national political organizations that actually have a grassroots membership base with internal democratic mechanisms that ensure the members’ views are represented. This would be a worthy objective which, even if achieved, would allow them to legitimately claim to speak only for the members of the organization. (For an alternative approach see Ikhras FAQs #3 and #9)
As long as any individual or empty shell organization with an air-conditioned, K-Street office are appointing themselves representatives of an entire community, any member of the group they falsely claim to represent is entitled to criticize their activities, highlight their lack of support, disassociate from their publicly expressed political views, and condemn the careerism and reprehensible behavior pursued in the appropriated name of the collective community.
It is both ironic and appropriate that such an article would be written by one of Zogby’s employees. As the highest profile Arab-American “activist” cocooned up in Washington since the 1970s, Zogby has long ago become the poster child for all that is wrong for what passes as an “Arab Lobby” in the United States. This quintessential opportunist enamored with US officials, Arab oil-“Shakes”, and Lisa Halaby (we decline to call her Queen Noor) can count more supporters among the staff at the embassies of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, where he receives his support, financial and otherwise, than the entire Arab-American community from coast to coast. His annual “Gibran Gala” earlier this month was underwritten by the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia and Saudi Aramco, with each contributing a minimum of $100,000 according to the AAI website.
Despite the author’s disclaimer at the end of the article, it’s highly unlikely the person in charge of communications at the AAI would have written this article without the prior knowledge and approval of Zogby. Even if the writer was not directly tasked with this assignment, he would be well aware of the political environment at the AAI, and the limits of acceptable public discourse for any of its employees. Given the decades he’s spent carefully refining his “mainstream message” and assiduously cultivating his image as a “respectable Arab”, it is unimaginable Zogby or any of his assistants would employ the tone or language of this article in the context of describing members of racist Zionist groups like AIPAC or J-Street, anti-Arab fanatics and Islamophobes in the American media, any US official (including war criminals responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Arabs in Iraq), or even the terrorist, Zionist state’s representatives and propagandists in the US. In the event anyone at the AAI would commit such a serious lapse in judgment Zogby would immediately dismiss him/her from the outfit, call a press conference to repudiate the “inflammatory language”, and issue a series of public apologies.
We reprinted the article as a helpful illustration of the extent to which the political culture and exigencies of Washington have been fully internalized by these so called “activists” and self-appointed representatives of our community. It also serves as an example of the narratives, yardsticks, attitudes, and behavior that must inevitably be adopted by anyone opting for a strategy of slavishly appealing to Washington officialdom. Ignoring the lies and mischaracterizations, and putting aside the ad hominem attacks and hyperbole that characterized this article, the few issues raised have already been addressed in our Mission Statement, FAQs, and numerous articles, and we will continue to address them in the future.
P.S. Unlike Zogby who does not speak, read, or write Arabic, the author of the article speaks Arabic with native ability and is an English-Arabic translator. We trust he will translate and explain the poem that appears at the top of this article for his employer.
Confronting the Needless Hostility Within
One of the mistakes our community has made in dealing with Islamophobia has been to ignore the forces behind it, assuming they were far too crazy and marginal to ever gain sufficient traction in the mainstream to mount a serious challenge to our communities. Now, as we see Islamophobes elected to Congress, arbitrary controversies erupting at various sites where Muslims sought to build places of worship, and states passing paranoid laws to fight the imaginary creeping of “Sharia Law,” we know we should not have waited this long to take the threat of Islamophobia seriously.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, a different brand of extremism, still in its marginal infancy, is trying to stir up trouble in our community. These are people who stridently claim to be the only authentic Arabs who care about justice for their communities in the US and in the Middle East, and they assign the term “house Arab” to any Arab American who promotes engagement with US policymakers or participation in the American political process.
While Islamophobes oppose Arab and Muslim involvement in American politics on the grounds that we are a potential threat and cannot be trusted, these guys oppose such engagement on the grounds that the US political establishment is such an unmitigated evil that there is no reason to engage it (the permeation of either ideology increases the “otherness” of Arabs and Muslims and the sense that they don’t belong in or are an integral part of this country). Anyone who does engage, so their logic goes, must be doing it to gain favor with the political elite, or for personal enrichment and empty self-promotion as a fake community leader with high connections.
Some with this ideology have anonymously (that is to say under pseudonyms) created a blog called “Ikhras,” Arabic for “shut up,” which is aimed at what they describe as “House Arabs.” Its content is about 5% spot on (occasionally they do go after people in a deserved fashion), about 10% funny and entertaining, but the remaining 85% is malicious, juvenile, and destructive. Intellectual consistency and clarity are completely abandoned in favor of feeble and often self-contradicting ad hominem attacks that are simply too extensive and convoluted to explain in detail.
To give just one example, the anonymous writers at Ikhras pleaded with the youth of the Egyptian revolution (particularly Wael Ghonim) not to associate themselves with the Arab American Institute (AAI), but when these activists took part in AAI’s Gala they were accused of being fake revolutionaries (including Jawad Nabulsi who was shot in the eye while protesting on the streets of Cairo – dare I speculate that this is more than what the anonymous bloggers of Ikhras risked for the revolution?). This is pretty indicative of their doltishly arrogant “either you’re with us or against us” mentality. If they truly believed in such personal attacks, why don’t they have the courage of their convictions to sign their real names to such vitriol?
Recently, Ikhras contributor Tammy Obeidallah (who I’m told is not Arab but who signs her real name) wrote a screed on Ikhras attacking Arab American comedian Dean Obeidallah as “the father of all House Arabs.” What was his crime? He didn’t condemn Israel and the United States in the course of an interview he did on CNN. During an exchange in the comments section on Ikhras and on twitter, Tammy accused Dean and Maysoon Zayid (another Arab American comedian) of being “Zionists” (consistent with Ikhras’ style of wild and baseless accusations). Once you’ve reduced yourself to making enemies out of Arab American comedians and staunch supporters of Palestinian rights like Dean and Maysoon with personalized vitriol, you’ve basically made it impossible to identify the limits of the depths to which you are willing to sink in vilifying anyone who disagrees with you. This type of strident orthodoxy demanded by Ikhras to spare oneself from baseless attacks is the sort of nasty bullying that must be confronted by all of us who value political and ideological diversity within our community before it becomes a poisonous source of unnecessary division and antagonism.
For those who consider themselves reasonable, but nevertheless find themselves partially sympathetic to the attitude of Ikhras, let me say this: there are a thousand approaches to advocacy, and we don’t have to agree with them all. Some of us prefer congressional advocacy, some of us like mass demonstrations, some prefer to write Op-Eds and letters to the editor, and some think BDS is more effective. Some of us prefer the principled stance that the US should end military aid to Israel until the latter abides by international law and respects the rights of the Palestinian people, while others prefer to advocate for what they see as more pragmatic and achievable goals like an even-handed diplomatic approach coupled with more moderate pressures.
The DC-based political advocacy approach requires one to play by specific rules, and they include constraints and considerations that people doing grassroots advocacy don’t have to bother with (maintaining relationships with various governments and government officials and using language and talking points that are suitable for that sphere). Whatever you think of the Washington game, it is what it is. Our political opponents who are so effective in Washington also play the game, and exceptionally well. If you don’t like the game, then find ways to limit the time you devote to it, or don’t play it at all. But don’t waste valuable energy denouncing those who choose to play it because they see the value in giving our community a voice in Washington. If you think you can do advocacy more effectively, by all means the stage is wide open.
And finally, a word to the anonymous folks who run Ikhras: the fact that people like Zuhdi Jasser, Irshad Manji, Nonie Darwish, Brigitte Gabriel and the rest of the self-promoting clowns (who do sell out their communities) don’t provide you with enough material to regularly update your website constitutes no license to expand your list of victims to anyone whose approach to advocacy you happen not to agree with. Had you chosen to focus on those who really deserve harsh criticism and delivered it in a thoughtful manner, your site might have served a constructive purpose. I hope you will take a moment for introspection on the role you play in the causes you say you care about. Sensationalism and contrived controversy is precisely what has reduced public discourse in the US to its current sorry state. The last thing the Arab American community needs is its own version of this mindless, angry divisiveness and McCarthyite stridency. Instead of being distracted and driven apart by irrational and anonymous public hate letters, we need to come together and work, if not in a cooperative, at least in a complementary fashion to advance the causes we care about. Let us elevate the discourse in the pursuit of a better model.
Omar Baddar is new media coordinator at the Arab-American Institute, but this piece is written in his personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the views of AAI or any other organization with which he is affiliated.
Forget Dean Obeidallah, Ray Hanania, and Maysoon Zayid. The self-appointed spokespersons and representatives of the Arab-American community in Washington DC are the real Arab-American comedians. James Zogby is now the “radical”, “extreme” Arab. His comments on the Obama speech were too harsh AND uncompromising for the more moderate, pro-peace Hussein Ibish.
Would any sincere anti-imperialist lose sleep over the US’s image?
“The last thing we needed is to take an incident like [killing of OBL] and turn it into something that becomes not believed or reinforces the sense that we don’t tell the truth,” says James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute.
A bunch of House Arabs and House Muslims wrote the following open letter to Brahim Zaibat, who until recently was Madonna’s “boytoy.” OK, they didn’t really write this, but they might as well could have, considering their strong desire to grovel to the US mainstream while the US rains death and destruction on innocent populations.
Your behavior reflects poorly on all Arabs and Muslims. You make it look as if Islam is incongruent with Kabbalah and Judaism generally. We will have a hard time explaining your behavior to Zionists at upcoming interfaith dialogue meetings. Many of us have lost sleep contemplating how embarrassing it will be. We just got done swearing to them how happy we are about Osama Bin Laden’s death, then you came along and ruined everything. Now we’re back to square one, proving we’re a tolerant, peaceful bunch, no thanks to you. (Palestine is not discussed at these meetings, in case you were wondering).
We are US-based Arab and Muslim organizations. We feel a compelling obligation to explain to our fellow Americans the meaning of the US killing of Osama bin Laden.
We take this opportunity to revisit the inconvenient fact that Osama Bin Laden and the Mujahideen were funded and supported by the US to fight the USSR in Afghanistan in the eighties. We recall that Ronald Reagan had called the Mujahideen “freedom fighters” when their interests coincided with the US’s. We remind ourselves that “Between 1978 and 1992, the US government poured at least US$6 billion (some estimates range as high as $20 billion) worth of arms, training and funds to prop up the mujaheddin factions.”
We note that the Mujahideen aligned themselves with the US, convincing themselves of the “lesser of two evils” argument. We recall that Zbigniew Brzezinski said:
The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war.
We learn an important lesson from this history and note that collaboration with the US is an immoral and counterproductive effort. Collaboration does not shield one from US persecution, neither is it a smart “strategy.” Aligning with powerful empires is foolish and self-defeating. The logic of House Muslims (or “House Negroes” as Malcolm X called the collaborators of his era) is short-sighted and idiotic.
We abhor the subtext of President Obama and Secretary Clinton‘s remarks, implying that the lives of millions of Afghanis, Iraqis and Pakistanis were worth somehow sacrificing in order to locate one ex-“freedom fighter” (as per Reagan’s words). Indeed, the President and Secretary of State did not even pay lip service to the countless lives devastated, weddings bombarded, children orphaned, spouses widowed, natural resources stolen. We condemn the hypocrisy of Secretary Clinton, who feigned concern for “innocent people” who were killed by OBL but not the innocent people in Afghanistan and Iraq for whose death she caused as Senator then as Secretary of State, or the innocent people in Palestine and Lebanon whose death by Israeli warplanes she supported. We cannot expect Obama and Clinton to apologize for the war crimes the US committed in pursuit of OBL, as it is not in empires’ nature to condemn themselves.
We are still haunted by the images of our sisters and brothers tortured in Abu Ghraib. The stench of scores of corpses from years of war, occupations and sanctions still fills the air. The emotional trauma of drones still terrorizes children. The dreary, bleak future facing millions of displaced Afghani and Iraqi refugees still shakes our conscience. White phosphorus and depleted uranium’s effects on public health and the environment will last for generations to come. That the US eliminated one of its ex-agents and claimed it was not waging war on Islam while war criminals continue to hold power in Washington and Tel Aviv offers us no relief.
We regret having spent the last decade begging for approval from the US mainstream, inviting US politicians to our conventions, having Ramadan iftars in the White House and embarrassing ourselves in a myriad of other ways. Now that OBL is finally dead, we look forward to freeing up the time we’d spent assuring everyone of our patriotism and swearing on the Qur’an that OBL did not represent us. We will no longer construct our discourse to sooth islamophobes’ racist anxieties. We will spend no more time emphasizing that OBL didn’t represent us than Christians assert that Obama, Clinton, Bush and Blair do not represent Christianity.
Instead, we will work on more urgent matters than pursuing the material comforts of the American dream, such as ending the occupation of Afghanistan, ending the occupation of Iraq, boycotting and dismantling “Israel,” closing Guantanamo, restoring civil liberties, ending US hegemony and racism.
American Arab Anti Discrimination Committee, Arab American Institute, American Task Force for Palestine, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Islamic Society of North America, Park51
House Arabs’ hypocrisy, inconsistency and self-contradiction are appalling. James Zogby’s piece in today’s Counterpunch would’ve led you to think he’d spent the last four decades of his life in the trenches of Egypt with his ear to the ground. For Zogby, the overthrow of Mubarak is a cheap opportunity to present himself as in tune with the populace’s demands. Sentences like this could understandably come from any of the millions of Egyptians who spent the last few weeks revolting against their tyrant:
The problem of not listening to Arab voices is not only a problem for those presidents who have fallen or those who are still at risk; it is a problem for the West as well. For too long, the US, Great Britain and others have ignored the concerns and sensibilities of Arab people.
Failure to listen is as much as a problem for James Zogby as it is for Arab presidents and the West. How can someone who had hosted Mubarak’s ambassador on his show and hosted Mubarak’s foreign minister now pretend he was on the people’s side all along? Hosting representatives of the Mubarak regime conveys disregard for the Arabs whose opinions he feigns to care about. Just a few days into the uprising, Zogby was adamant about ignoring popular will: “Don’t go supporting and sprinkling holy water on a revolution when you don’t who’s behind it and you don’t know where it’s going.”
It will no longer be possible to operate as if Arab public opinion does not matter.
Does that mean he’ll be shutting down AAI and Viewpoint soon? Here’s to hoping.