Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2010, Pages 54-55

Arab-American Activism

Civil Rights Luncheon

(L-r) ADC public affairs adviser Imad Hamad, boardmember Dr. Safa Rifka, Attorney General Eric Holder, ADC legal director Abed Ayoub, ADC president Sara Najjar-Wilson, and ADC legal adviser Fahed al-Rawaf. (Staff Photo K. Kainth)

"SECURITY and liberty are partners," said the Honorable Eric J. Holder, Jr., Attorney General of the United States and Keynote speaker at the Civil Rights Luncheon of the ADC convention, located at the Washington Marriot Wardman Park Hotel, on June 4th.

Holder described the U.S. Department of Justice's focus on equality and religious freedom when protecting U.S. citizens. He mentioned the department's work regarding combating hate crimes, enforcing fair housing, and ensuring equal educational opportunities. He specifically referenced the department's investigation of the pipe bomb that was set off in a Jacksonville, Florida mosque and its role in Oregon's repeal of laws barring religious clothing in public schools.

In talks with many Arab Americans, Holder said he discovered a strong sentiment of "us versus them."

"We are a nation of immigrants," said Holder, emphasizing the importance of breaking down barriers along ethnic and religious lines.

Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award

"Justice for Shehada" was the overarching message behind this year's ADC Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award, which was received by John P. Contini, a criminal defense attorney based in Florida, at the Civil Rights Luncheon.

Contini has worked with the ADC and the Department of Justice to properly investigate the unexplained shooting of 29-year-old Hussein Shehada by the Miami Beach Police Force. On June 14, 2009 Shehada, who was unarmed, was shot by Officer Adam Tavss.

The case has been claimed by many, including the ADC, as an instance of racial profiling. The police were said to have questioned whether Shehada was "Arabic." Similar accusations of race-based arrests have been directed at the Miami Beach Police in the past.

Contini's work with the case and his attempts to bring justice to the Shehada family have sent a message about racial profiling throughout the United States, namely that neither the Arab-American community nor other ethnic communities will allow their rights as U.S. citizens to be violated in such a manner.

U.S. Policy in the Middle East Panel

Dr. Rima Khalaf, former assistant secretary-general for Arab States at the U.N. (Staff Photo K. Kainth)

Extremism on one side creates a ripple effect in which "the extremist us can only see the extremist other," according to Dr. Rima Khalaf, a panelist at the discussion on U.S. Policy in the Middle East held on June 5 as part of the ADC convention.

This phenomenon has resulted in the stagnancy of negotiations and the perpetuation of Israel's occupation, which is, according to Khalaf, a rarity in the post-colonial world. The extremism has been extrapolated so far that Israel now possesses the stigma of being "the only country who threatened to use nukes against Arabs," said Khalaf, former Assistant Secretary-General for Arab States at the United Nations Development Program.

When addressing the U.S.'s role in the conflict, Khalaf conceded that the U.S. policies under the Obama administration have been "more in line with international legitimacy" but affirmed that they "still have not addressed many grievances."

Daniel Levy, another of the panelists and Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation, expressed similar sentiments, but focused on the self-destructive nature of these actions and the necessity of U.S. help in ending them.

"The Israeli-Jewish community is under a siege of its own," said Levy. He emphasized the need for an ally such as the U.S. to pull Israel out of this downward spiral. By indulging Israel, Levy expressed, the U.S. is encouraging an addiction to self-destruction. The U.S. must also undergo the difficult process of "weaning itself off of an addiction to doing U.S.-Israeli politics this way."

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman agreed that "Palestine must be a real state," garnering much applause from the audience. He espoused the belief that negotiations for a two-state solution will prove fruitful. However, in response to a question from the audience about how a Palestinian state could be created if Israeli settlements were not stopped, Feltman answered that he did not believe the settlements would hinder a two-state solution. A few audience members called out for further information to which Feltman could not respond due to his early departure for another engagement.

Levy, in answer to Feltman's trust in the power of negotiations, emphasized that the U.S. must recognize its specific role in these negotiations in order to truly make progress. These negotiations, according to Levy, rather than addressing events as far back as the 1948 Nakba, should address the conflict from 1967 onward. He did, however, mention that the issue of the refugees, whether or not a return is agreed upon, should be "treated with sensitivity."

Palestine Luncheon

Keynote speaker at ADC's June 6th Palestine Luncheon Dr. Clovis Maksoud, Chief Representative of the League of Arab States in the U.S. in 1979, described Israel as "not an occupier but a claimant and a conqueror."

Maksoud scrutinized the international community's response to the conflict and the recent flotilla incident, calling on the Obama administration to utilize stronger verbiage in condemning Israel and for Egypt to break diplomatic relations with Israel.

In particular, Maksoud criticized Obama's urge for Israel to "freeze settlements" in his famous Cairo speech, claiming that the U.S. should instead demand that settlements be "dismantled," because using the term "freeze" acknowledges the legality of the settlements.

Peace and justice, according to Maksoud, are two goals that must be achieved simultaneously. In Maksoud's view, Palestine is "the harbinger of our restored dignity and pride." With 78 percent of the Palestinian territory having become Israel, Jerusalem is a symbol of hope and the highest point of contention for Palestinians. "Jerusalem cannot become the capital of Israel," said Maksoud.

Karina Kainth