Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 2004, pages 66-68

Southern California Chronicle

Actor Alec Baldwin Receives MPAC Media Award, Warns About PATRIOT Act

By Pat and Samir Twair

MPAC Media Award recipient Alec Baldwin (l) with Dr. Joseph (Abe) Abu Dalu (staff photo S. Twair).

“I’M AFRAID FOR the world. I’m afraid these people [the Republicans] are going to pull this off again in November. I can’t begin to tell you what will happen if they’re re-elected. But after Jan. 1, wait ’til you see PATRIOT Act 2.”

These chilling words were uttered by superstar Alec Baldwin as he accepted the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s 2004 Media Award Aug. 23 in Los Angeles’ historic Biltmore Hotel.

Past recipients of the MPAC award include documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, anti-war protagonist Mike Farrell of TV’s “M*A*S*H*,” author Karen Armstrong, musician Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) and Spike Lee, director of “Malcom X.”

Baldwin was selected as the 13th annual recipient for his political positions on social justice, environmentalism and the Bush administration’s failures to implement sound domestic and foreign policies. The MPAC program particularly commended the activist actor for chairing and moderating the first national Grassroots America Defends the Bill of Rights conference in 2003. This event urged Congress to repeal more draconian aspects of the PATRIOT Act which Congress passed after 9/11.

The star of “Hunt for Red October,” “The Cooler” and “Glengarry Glen Ross” was introduced by Dr. Maher Hathout, spokesperson for the Islamic Center of Southern California.

“Why are we giving this award? And why are we giving it to Alec Baldwin?” Dr. Hathout asked rhetorically. “We honor Alec Baldwin because he doesn’t need to speak out, he doesn’t have a personal interest in these issues that affect us. He’s already successful.”

The audience broke into laughter as he continued: “Alec Baldwin is white, very white, he’s nice looking and hasn’t been targeted. That is up ”˜til now.”

Rather, Hathout reasoned, the actor has chosen to speak out because “what matters to him is America the beautiful, not America, a land of zombies.”

Two giant screens showed the fearless actor on Bill Maher’s now defunct “Politically Incorrect” TV show as he challenged Muslim-baiter Daniel Pipes and debated rightwing Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly.

Addressing the MPAC audience of more than 500, Baldwin recalled how O’Reilly had asked if his outspoken liberalism had hurt his acting career.

“It was only when I was driving home,” Baldwin added, “that I realized I should have told O’Reilly my political stance hasn’t affected my career anymore than O’Reilly’s polemics have hurt his professional image.”

“O’Reilly has a quick mind, a keen sense of humor,” he elaborated, “but he’s unlikely to win a Peabody Award or a Pulitzer Prize because of the political path he has chosen which demonizes dissidents.”

Baldwin said he initially dreamed of studying law, and attended George Washington University before matriculating to New York University, where he received a degree in drama. His predilection for politics was evidenced in his observation that George W. Bush envisions the U.S. as a white, right-wing nation in which some Americans deserve fewer rights.

“Ronald Reagan wanted to push the clock back to the 1950s,” Baldwin said, “but George Bush wants to push it back to 1750.”

The film star commented that the people occupying the White House are by no means a self-critical group: “If you criticize them, they’ll hit back and call you a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer.”

His father, Baldwin explained, was a high school civics teacher who had no money and six children to support. “If we wanted to connect with my father, we had to talk politics,” he said.

Baldwin said his father instilled in his children the philosophy of making the world a better place and eschewed the attitude “I’ve got mine so screw you.”

He warned the roomful of Muslims that until the next wave of immigrants comes ashore, “you are the newest arrivals.

“How will you respond in this post-9/11 world?” he asked. “Some would advise that to prove your Americanism you keep your mouth shut about the wars in the Middle East. The most American thing you can do,” Baldwin advised, “is to criticize your government if you believe it is behaving badly.

“The U.S. is currently ruled by people who think the U.S. is right no matter what it does,” he stated. “I believe the U.S. is great in direct proportion to what it does.”

Baldwin confessed he is obsessed with the truth and it is the truth that his organization, People for the American Way, is seeking in Florida, where it is demanding a paper trail for ballots in the forthcoming election.

Who knows, maybe the name Alec Baldwin will be on the Democratic ticket one of these election years.

Antiochians Launch Western Diocese

Bishop Joseph enthroned (staff photo S. Twair).

The North American Antiochian Orthodox Church made history Sept. 12 when it enthroned the first bishop of the Diocese of the West during a hierarchical divine liturgy in St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral of Los Angeles.

The landmark cathedral was filled with 1,200 parishoners, with another 250 spectators accommodated in an auditorium, as ceremonies involving Metropolitan Philip Saliba, three bishops and 75 priests were conducted over two-and-a-half hours. Adding to the pomp and circumstance were a 70-voice choir and chants led by Alberto Fayad.

At the center of the ritual was Bishop Joseph al-Zehlaoui, who has served as auxiliary bishop of the western region since 1995.

“The significance of today,” explained Wedad Namay, “is that the American church is establishing self-rule and henceforth will select its own bishops independent of the Holy Synod of Antioch in Damascus.”

Prominent in the audience were Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA); Lebanon’s Ambassador to the U.S. Dr. Farid Abboud; Lebanese Consul General Dr. Charbel Wehbi; and honorary Syrian consul Dr. Hazem Chehabi.

Judge Jim Gray (c) with supporters at the Museum of Tolerance (staff photo S. Twair).

Over the past two decades, the Antiochian church has doubled its parishes to more than 200. Bishop Joseph will oversee 56 parishes in the Western Diocese representing more than 10,000 worshippers.

More than 600 church leaders assembled later at a luncheon in the Biltmore Hotel, where Metropolitan Philip declared: “We are not leaving the old country, but we are establishing self-rule because we are in the United States.”

Bishop Joseph noted that while the church is adjusting to change and constant growth, it was celebrating that day the memory of the Apostle Autonomos, a saint who tore down pagan temples and converted idol worshippers.

The new bishop was born in 1950 in Damascus, Syria, and served in parishes in Salonika, Damascus, London and Cyprus. He came to the U.S. in 1995 and became a U.S. citizen in 2003.

Moskowitz Wins—With Conditions

“How bad do you have to be before the Commission will deny you a gambling license?” was the rhetorical question asked by Jane Hunter, co-director of the Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem.

After months of legal haggling, the California Gambling Control Commission on Aug. 20 unenthusiastically granted a one-year conditional operating license to controversial Hawaiian Gardens bingo parlor and casino owner Irving Moskowitz.

The Florida-based Moskowitz is the leading funder of hard-line Israeli settlers who take over Palestinian property in East Jerusalem. His money comes from the controversial gaming houses he owns in Hawaiian Gardens, the poorest and smallest city in Los Angeles County.

Saying there were too many unanswered questions to grant the license, Commissioner Arlo Smith abstained. He also disclosed that a federal grand jury is under way.

Former State Assemblyman Scott Wildman testified before the Commission, arguing that the United Nations defined Moskowitz’s provocative purchases of Palestinian property as illegal, and asking the gambling board to uphold international law by denying the casino license.

Rabbi Haim Beliak and Hunter questioned the commissioners on how they could grant the license to Moskowitz, who has never appeared before them and whose mental faculties are reputed to be failing.

Moskowitz’s political machinations in the Middle East weren’t of much interest to the Commission, but it did opt to grant the one-year casino license with the provisions that an independent auditing committee review casino finances, licensed guards check for underage patrons, and quarterly reports on cheating or misconduct be filed.

The latter deals with a lawsuit filed by Moskowitz employees alleging that his casino is a major loan-sharking operation. According to the employees, the casino’s money is used for loans to players and dealers at exorbitant interest. Workers also claim they must pay thousands of dollars for the most lucrative jobs at the casino and are made to illegally pool their tips, which then are redistributed.

An editorial in the Aug. 21 Long Beach Press Telegram called for a strong state investigation into the situation in Hawaiian Gardens.

Judge Gray Excluded from Debate

On Aug. 10, Sen. Barbara Boxer debated her Republican Senate opponent, former California Secretary of State Bill Jones, in a statewide broadcast aired from the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance. All other candidates for Boxer’s Senate seat, including Libertarian Party contender Judge Jim Gray, were excluded by the debate sponsor, the League of Women Voters.

Prior to the debate, more than 60 irate Libertarians prepared signs and assembled with Judge Gray outside the museum. Protesting the decision not to include legitimate candidates who might raise issues Boxer and Jones would choose to avoid, their signs read, “Stop the Intolerance at the Museum,” “Afraid of Different Ideas?” “Let the Judge Speak,” “Justice for the Minority Voice,” and “What About Our Voice?”

Inside the museum, Boxer, who voted against giving Bush authority to go to war, described the situation in Iraq as a mess. Jones called Boxer’s questioning of the war an affront to U.S. troops serving there.

Outside the museum, Judge Gray called for an end to the war on Iraq and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

ISM Booksigning at Skylight Books

TOP: International Solidarity Movement volunteers (l-r) Kevin D'amato, Matt Horton and Tamara Rodino. ABOVE: Women In Black members show solidarity with Palestinian prisoner hunger strikers in front of the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles. (staff photos S. Twair).

Peace Under Fire, a book published by International Solidarity Movement volunteers, relates their extraordinary acts of bravery to protect Palestinians from Israeli oppression. On Sept. 4, several contributors to the book (available through the AET Book Club) spoke to at least 60 people at Skylight Books in the trendy Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Kevin D’amato explained that ISM practices nonviolent methods to resist military and settler abuse of Palestinians. Activities include Freedom Summer, in which volunteers from all over the world come to the West Bank and Gaza to protest construction of the Apartheid Wall and Israeli roadblocks, house demolitions and uprooting of olive trees. The other major event is the Olive Harvest in October and November, when ISM volunteers assist Palestinians in harvesting their olive crops amid attacks by Jewish settlers.

Being an ISM volunteer is not for the faint-hearted. An Israeli-driven Caterpillar bulldozer crushed Rachel Corrie as she tried to proect a Gaza home from demolition, and Tom Hurndall was fatally shot as he sheltered Palestinian children from Israeli bullets. Another ISMer, Brian Avery, was shot in the face and is maimed for life.

Garrick Ruiz, who spent the summers of 2002 and 2003 in Palestine, read “A Long Night in Gaza,” his account of the night he spent with a family of 10 who must live with a neighbor because the Israelis destroyed their house. The night was July 23, 2002, when an Israeli F-16 dropped a one-ton bomb in heavily populated Gaza City. Five homes were destroyed, 16 were killed and more than 100 injured.

Ruiz was with his adopted family in Rafah, where the men stayed awake all night, listening to the news and watching the movement of tanks that always fire after midnight.

“Just hours before the one-ton bomb was dropped, Hamas had declared a cease-fire,” Ruiz explained. “So the Israeli response was to attack Hamas.”

Matt Horton discussed his summer of 2002 at the al-Farah Camp, between Nablus and Jenin. He stayed with a family which was trying to stop the demolition of their house because a son had blown himself up weeks earlier.

“It’s against the 4th Geneva Convention to carry out collective punishment,” Horton said, “but the Israelis destroy the homes of freedom fighters with no fear of international condemnation. The Palestinians have a long tradition of nonviolent resistance, such as the 24-day hunger strike 2,500 political prisoners have just ended.”

Tamara Rodino, who was in the West Bank in 2002, has given a Power Point talk at several Southern California campuses on the atrocities she witnessed. Along with 30 percent of ISM volunteers, she emphasized, she is Jewish. She often rode in ambulances, she said, since her presence, as an American, protected Palestinian medics from being beaten by Israeli soldiers.

“Nablus and Jenin have put up a violent resistance,” she explained, “and so they make these cities off limits to internationals. The mindset of the Palestinians is they will not be made refugees once more and they will give their lives before they give up their land.”

WIB, PAS Join in Hunger for Justice

In the space of two days, Women In Black/Los Angeles and the Palestine Aid Society were able to assemble more than 60 activists in front of the Los Angeles Israeli Consulate Aug. 26 to express their solidarity with the nearly 2,500 Palestinian political prisoners who were on a hunger strike to protest their treatment.

Many WIB members were fasting that day, and they wore dark hoods similar to ones Palestinian prisoners are forced to wear by their Israeli jailers. A local TV station interviewed protesters whose complaints about children being held for years in Israeli prisons were broadcast that evening.

A flier entitled “Israeli Use of Torture on Children” published by B’Tselem was handed out to passersby.

Pat and Samir Twair are free-lance journalists based in Los Angeles.

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