An artist’s collage juxtaposes the real-life conditions Palestinian workers face in the occupied West Bank with Scarlett Johansson’s role as SodaStream spokesmodel. (Courtesy Electronic Intifada)
Outside the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan, activists demonstrate against U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his peace proposal, Jan. 29, 2014. (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images)
A Jewish settler (unseen at left) places the Israeli flag on a road sign as Israeli troops encircle Palestinian villagers protesting the army’s cutting branches off olive trees on a road leading to the illegal Jewish settlement of Tekoa, south of Bethlehe
Dr. Eyad El Serraj at a 1993 press conference in East Jerusalem denouncing Israel’s use of torture. (Ruben Bittermann/Photofile)
U.N. and Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi (l) and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the Jan. 22 press conference closing the Geneva II peace talks on Syria. (Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images)
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October 7, 1985, Page 9
Lobbies and Activists
Focus on Arabs and Islam
Two distinguished Americans, Former Undersecretary of State George Ball and Former U.S. Senator Charles Percy, made eloquent pleas during September for Americans to consider the potentially catastrophic consequences to U.S. interests of unquestioning U.S. support of Israel in all matters concerning the Middle East.
Senator Percy, an Illinois Republican and former Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke September 27 at the annual conference of the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C.
Asked what role his earlier pleas for a balanced U.S. Middle East policy had played in his 1984 defeat in the Illinois Senatorial election, Senator Percy said that in addition to hundreds of thousands of dollars in recorded contributions by pro-Israel individuals and Political Action Committees to the campaign of his opponent, Representative Paul Simon, Percy's staff estimated that the Simon campaign received $1.6 million dollars from a single pro-Israel backer from Southern California. Nevertheless, Percy told the MEI audience: "The day after the election last year, I said that if I had known that my vote in support of the sale of AWACs or my criticism of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon would have determined whether I was re-elected, I would not have changed my vote or a single word of my criticism of the invasion."
Turning to the Saudi decision to spend $4.5 billion on British jet fighters because of Congressional opposition to the sale of U.S. planes to Saudi Arabia and Jordan, Senator Percy called it "bad news for all parties concerned, with the possible exception of the British." The U.S. lost a major contribution to the "plus side of our trade balance," the Saudis lost "confidence in a friend" and Israel lost security, since the U.S. planes would have been subject to basing and weapons restrictions that the British have not attached. Referring to a resolution by more than 70 Congressmen opposing arms sales to Jordan, Percy said "I'm not in the business of second-guessing my former colleagues, but I must say that in this instance more than 70 of them are wrong."
Citing a remark during the conference by General George Seignious that the Middle East was the area most likely to ignite a world nuclear conflagration, Percy said this underlines the importance of a currently existing opportunity for Middle East peace, which has brought both Egyptian President Mubarak and King Hussein of Jordan to Washington. That opportunity, he said, if not acted upon by the U.S., "may be gone tomorrow."
(Excerpts from the speech by Senator Percy, who serves as chairman of the International Institute of Education and directs his own firm, Charles Percy & Associates, in Washington, D.C., are reprinted beginning on Page 4 of this issue of The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,.)
In the banquet speech of the September 5 to 8 national convention in Washington of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (discussed in a Page 1 Special Report in this issue of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,) George Ball, former Undersecretary of State during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, recalled George Washington's farewell admonition to his countrymen to be neutral and to avoid "passionate attachments" for other nations which foster "the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists."
"The wisdom of Washington's advice has recently been dramatically validated by an incident that has confused and angered American citizens—the skyjacking of TWA Flight 847," Ball said. His address examined the historical background, starting with the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which led to the hijacking.
Ball was critical of the U.S. for not exercising its responsibility to stop the invasion when General Sharon sought prior assurances that the U.S. would not intervene if Israel sought to root the PLO out of Lebanon by military force.
"Why Secretary Haig did not react more forcefully can now be clearly seen," Ball said. "He was basically in favor of Sharon's scheme provided it could be quickly executed and would not involve the United States too deeply."
Ball's assessment of the results of America's "passionate attachment" to Israel spared none of the participants in the Lebanon tragedy. "When the Israeli forces first crossed the border," he said, "the Shias in South Lebanon had greeted the invading forces with smiles and flowers." Israeli misconduct soon dissipated whatever goodwill they enjoyed.
Subsequently, "America lost the last shreds of its credibility as a result of the Sabra and Shatila massacre," Ball noted. "Ambassador Habib had given the PLO assurances that, even without the protection of the PLO forces, the Palestinians left behind would be safe from harm—and that included the families of the PLO fighters being evacuated. Because he explicitly guaranteed to the PLO leaders that the United States would 'do its utmost, to assure that that commitment was honored, our word was badly compromised when we left the whole matter in the hands of the Israelis, who promptly threw open the camps to the murderous Phalange."
Subsequent problems of extricating the U.S. Marines, whose mission in Lebanon had become more and more ambiguous, and Israel's attempt to appear to withdraw from Southern Lebanon while in fact tightening its control, demonstrate that "repeated experience is more and more validating George Washington's admonition," Ball said.
(Significant excerpts from the Ball speech will be provided with a subsequent issue of The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,.)
Focus on Israel and Jews
The second half of September was a busy time for American Jews observing Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. But for a delegation from The American Jewish Congress (AJC), the first half of the month was even busier. From September 4 through 13 Professor Henry Rosovsky of Harvard University led a group of 21 AJC leaders on a fact-finding trip to Egypt, Jordan and Israel. The delegation met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Hussein and then reported back to Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres on the results of their mission.
Jacob P. Billig, an AJC official from Washington, D.C. and a member of the delegation, said that both the King and President Mubarak were extremely sincere in their desire to reach a mutually acceptable peace with Israel. Mubarak told the group that he wanted to advance the peace process and move toward full normalization of relations with Israel, but that so long as problems between the two countries remain unsolved, he felt constrained by public opinion in Egypt. Billig said he had expected the Jordanians to discuss their need for F-20 or F-16 aircraft. Instead, Jordanian officials made an "urgent plea" to the delegation of American Jewish leaders to meet with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, who happened to be in Amman during their visit. The delegation refused to meet with Arafat, Billig said, because "such a meeting would not accomplish anything." Arab leaders told the AJC group that U.S. officials should meet with a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, including PLO members, and that if they did so the PLO would be "put to the test." Chairman Arafat has said he would be willing to negotiate a peace based upon U.N. Security Council Resolution 242's land-for-peace formula after such a meeting took place. The Jewish leaders said Mubarak and Hussein told them the time had come to ascertain whether Arafat would live up to his words.
Israel's National Unity Government has been divided on the question of the AJC mission. Prime Minister Shimon Peres gave it his approval, but according to the Washington Jewish Week,Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir branded the American Jewish Congress "a peanut-sized organization" which had no right to "to enter into negotiations on the Israel-Arab conflict." [Founded in 1917 to present Jewish and Zionist claims at the Versailles Peace Conference, the AJC now has more than 40,000 members nationwide.] Shamir also criticized a separate AJC mission to Moscow led by the organization's president, Edgar Bronfman. The purpose of that mission was to discuss Jewish emigration from the USSR with Soviet authorities.
While the AJC delegation was still in Israel briefing the Peres Government on its discussions in Amman and Cairo, rabbis in Washington, D.C. were protesting the appearance of another rabbi—Meir Kahane of the Kach Party—at the National Press Club. Kahane declares that all Arabs should voluntarily leave both Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, and that if they refuse, they should be expelled by force.
The Washington Board of Rabbis demonstrated outside the Press Club, carrying placards such as "Zionism, Yes; Racism, No" and "Kahane Does Not Speak for Me." Rabbi Bruce Kahn of Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, Maryland, told the Washington Jewish Week that even though the High Holiday season was the most hectic time of the year for rabbis, they felt it was necessary to speak out against Kahane, who is now "a serious factor that can't be passed off (and) ... a legitimate threat."
There is no question that Kahane, who assured his press club audience that he fully expects to become Prime Minister of Israel, enjoys rising popularity not only in Israel but also in the United States. Kenneth Sidman of Boston, National Coordinator of the Kach Party in the U.S., told theWashington Report on Middle East Affairs, that Kach U.S.A. has 8,000 supporters, about 80 percent of whom are nonobservant Jews.
Expressing concern at the growth of Kahaneism in the U.S., Tom Smerling, in an Opinion piece in the Jewish Week, argues that American Jews can no longer afford to "carry on business as usual." They should instead, he urges, be "encouraging U.S. efforts to advance the peace process [in the Middle East]" and organizing a "Campaign for Democracy" to assist Israelis fighting Kahane and his racist credo.
Andrea Barron, a PhD Candidate in International Relations at the American University in Washington, D.C, is active in Washington Area Jews for an Israeli-Palestinian Peace and writes frequently about the Middle East.