And Where is the A-Street?: What’s wrong with the Arab “Peace” Camp

Rebecca Abou-Chedid, former director of outreach at the New America Foundation’s Middle East Task Force and former national political director at the Arab American Institute, writes about why she should be able to proudly give to JStreet and JStreet should not be ashamed to take her donations.

It’s a no-brainer why an Arab prominent in the American-Arab community wants to support a group that wants to pressure Israel into unilateral concessions for the sake of “peace,” and it’s not surprising that she would dismiss the opposition’s substantive objectives — forced concessions that are not reciprocated will bring hostility and war — as so much pique at not controlling the agenda (another ad hominem).

What’s not understandable (unless you accept the honor-shame paradigm), is why Arabs and Muslims haven’t formed an A-Street, militating for Arab/Muslim/Palestinian concessions aimed at making peace more likely?

Instead it’s perfectly pitched demopathic discourse about how my supporting Israelis working for peace is my democratic right and who are you to question my motives. Well I do question them. If you want peace, do what the Israelis and Jews do: criticize your own people, demand that they back down from their crazy, hardline positions, denounce immature and unjustified rioting on Haram al Sharif as harmful to the process, and demand that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state just as every Arab state is a Muslim state (except, for the time being, Lebanon).

Or are you afraid that the opposition to your Lobby group will not be as mild as that — for which you show contempt — of people like Lenny David, who merely argue with those he opposes. Or are you afraid you could never get more than a dozen people to openly support you? Or has it not even occurred to you that this is how to help peace?

Nightmare on J Street
Why can’t Arab Americans work for peace, too?
BY REBECCA ABOU-CHEDID | OCTOBER 22, 2009

At last, somebody found me out.

This week, former AIPAC and Israeli embassy official Lenny Ben-David published an article revealing that I had given a donation to the “pro-Israel and pro-peace” organization J Street. Because I am of Lebanese descent, this clearly indicates that my dollars must be intended to advance some pernicious anti-Israel agenda — and that J Street must be the vehicle for those aims.

I would be only too happy to ignore Ben-David’s article as a collection of cheap innuendo and loose associations, but the stakes are too high. With J Street’s inaugural conference less than one week away, opponents are desperate that it fail. The attacks on the organization, its founder Jeremy Ben-Ami, its staff, and their supporters have taken on an all too-familiar form — eschewing substance to malign the motives and associations of those they disagree with. Ben-David and his supporters are now attacking J Street for accepting contributions from Americans of Arab descent. The donations in question are largely symbolic, many of them in amounts between $30-$100, but his point is loud and clear — an organization that receives Arab-American support must, by definition, be suspect.

But why on earth should J Street be ashamed to have the support of Arab-Americans like me? And why should Arab-Americans worry that participating in the political life of their country and exercising their freedom of speech might — simply because of their ethnicity — harm the candidates and causes they hold dear?

Ben-David’s allegations offer two competing conclusions. Either J Street is not sufficiently pro-Israel (how else would it attract Arab-American support?) or there is a significant group of Arab Americans for whom being pro-Palestine and pro-Israel are not mutually exclusive. He assumes, and hopes everyone else will also assume, that the former is self-evident and the latter is impossible. He is wrong.

It is possible to be both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, not out of some blanket support for either government, but out of a sincere belief that peace is in both people’s best interests. I hold that belief as a result of years of work within the Arab and Jewish American communities, working in partnerships not just with J Street but also with such groups as Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, and Israel Policy Forum. I have traveled to the region and remain humbled and inspired by the courage and tenacity of those Israelis and Palestinians who refuse to submit to the cynicism or pessimism this conflict so often demands.

The reason J Street causes such fury among certain detractors often has nothing to do with its policy positions. These people are angry because the political climate has shifted in a way that they no longer understand or control. The generation that elected President Obama is not interested in being divided based on religion or ethnic heritage. We are not interested in a zero-sum game. We believe our elected officials must play a leadership role in brokering a two-state solution to this conflict, and that Arab and Jewish Americans must work together to support them. How can anyone profess to believe in a two-state solution, in which Israelis and Palestinians will live side by side, if they view with suspicion Arab and Jewish Americans working together to get there?

As a staff member at the Arab American Institute (AAI), it was my job to engage Arab Americans in civic life, including giving time and money to the candidates and causes we believe in. AAI’s founder, James Zogby, has dedicated his career to combating those who would seek to exclude us because of our ethnic heritage. We have the right to engage in American political life because we are Americans. That we do so is to our credit, and not a negative reflection on those we choose to support in our common quest for peace. At the United Nations in September, President Obama said that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “absolutely critical” to American national interests. Many of us –Arab and Jewish Americans alike — wholeheartedly agree.

Those Arab Americans who support J Street, like myself, do so because we are eager to work with an organization that views us as partners and does not seek to perpetuate the divisions and pathologies of the Middle East here in the United States. Contrary to Ben-David’s assertions, those of us who work in coalition to support President Obama’s efforts are not the ones with explaining to do.

Rebecca Abou-Chedid is the former director of outreach at the New America Foundation’s Middle East Task Force and former national political director at the Arab American Institute.

UPDATE: Lenny Ben-David left the following remark at Abou-Chedid’s article, starting an interesting thread:

Your name could be Golda Meir
Ms. Abou-Chedid -
My reference to your involvement with J Street has nothing to do with your ancestry or even you personally. Your friends who label me a racist are only attempting to deflect attention away from the questions raised about J Street and its lack of transparency.

What I find disturbing about J Street is the deception surrounding it. A donor will sign federal documents saying he is “not working” and living in Orlando when he’s actually Palestinian billionaire from the West Bank. You are registered in the PAC as a “consultant” for USUS, not for the Arab American Institute. These disclosures have nothing to do with ethnic background. Why do Saudi employees and partners — WASPS, I presume — like lawyer Nancy Dutton and former CIA station chief Ray Close give to a “pro-Israel” organization? Why would life-long Arabist diplomats? Or activists in Muslim centers around the U.S., centers which identify with the Muslim Brotherhood? Or Genevieve Lynch, an officer in the Iranian-American lobby, give $10,000+ to J Street’s PAC?

If there were transparency to the organization, allowing people to see who makes the contrarian decisions and who pays the piper, then the mistrust would evaporate immediately. I suggest you make your donations to Peace Now or the Israel Policy Forum instead where the organizations’ decision-makers and contributors are public record.

Or even better, launch an “Arab Peace Now” to convince Arab citizens to chose a path of peace. Presumably you and friends have the standing and influence in the Arab world. Your choice of J Street, therefore, which chooses to heap criticism on Israel and seeks to pressure only Israel, makes me wonder.

Read the other comments. Gets tiring after a while.

17 Responses to And Where is the A-Street?: What’s wrong with the Arab “Peace” Camp

  1. Eliyahu says:

    The James Zogby that she cites once spoke at a college in New Jersey, near Trenton, probably Ryder, where I heard him. Among his other lies was a claim that a map is displayed in the Israeli Knesset that shows huge parts of the Middle East, from the Nile to northern Syria, as Israel. In this connection, I believe that one of the things that the Arabs need to do to prepare themselves mentally for peace and show minimal good faith would to acknowledge their lies about history and about Israel. Then they need to acknowledge the more than 1000 years of Arab/Muslim oppression of Jews in Israel and elsewhere. Then they can add the Nazi collaboration and Holocaust collaboration of the palestinian Arab leadership, particularly Haj Amin el-Husseini, as well as other leading Arab nationalists.

    When they do that then we ought to consider that they may be ready to make peace with Israel. But any such admissions or acknowledgements go against the grain of Arab and Arab/Muslim character, although some have done so [for instsance, Abdel-Razek Abdul-Kader]. RL has pointed this out and in his interview with Guysen TV in French, he pointed out the factors of Muslim shame of losing a war to dhimmis [inc. Jews] and of those who should be dhimmis ruling territory in what should be the Muslim domain [Dar al-Islam]. The Arabs are far from ready for peace.

    As to Abu-Shedid and JStreet, they both admit that one of their purposes is to provide mass support for Obama administration policy against Israel.

    The generation that elected President Obama … believe our elected officials must play a leadership role in brokering a two-state solution to this conflict, and that Arab and Jewish Americans must work together to support them.”

    This implies support for an imposed solution. An imposed solution would represent imperialism. Apparently Abu-Shedid and JStreet support US govt endeavors to bully Israel and impose a “solution.”

    Moreover, obama administration policy regarding Israel is basically a continuation of Bush administration policy on Israel, just more intense, especially concerning the racist denial by the Obama administration of the rights of Jews to live in Judea-Samaria. So she and her JStreet allies are meant to serve US govt policy, whether it’s good or bad for Jews or Arabs or Americans generally, whether or not it is racist against Jews.

  2. [...] life of their country and exercising their freedom of speech might … Continued here: Augean Stables » And Where is the A-Street?: What's wrong with the … Share and [...]

  3. E.G. says:

    Well, it’s not a “street” (yet?) but some sort of a movement.
    http://arabsforisrael.blogspot.com/2009/02/who-are-we_09.html

    And Walid Shoebat. And Magdi Allam, and several others.

  4. JD says:

    J Street? Is that Jew Street? Self-ghettoization?

    I watched their video that popped up at their site. Could not stand it after three people speaking. Especially the writer named Fein, called Israel an ongoing “project,” a typical way of dehumanization, control and criticism. Is Egypt a “project?” An “enterprise?” This is an old marxist way of dehumanizing Israel, traced to right wing anti-semitic themes that Jewish nationalism is something different than any body else’s.

    The interviewees sound like old lefties entranced with the Soviet anti-zionism campaign and all of its tactical odds and ends. But less so, they sound like a second generation that grew up in that intellectual and news media environment, but have conflicted feelings in favor of Israel. They inherited the crap, but do not understand the ideological and anti-semitic content of the crap, they accept it as true, but something that has to be reconciled. Also, they are 9/10 thinkers, that Israel and America are the only culpable actors, Palestinian actions and Arab ideology and religion are immaterial–thereby America and Israel are guilty, another old Western leftist construct. Within their fuzzy wuzzy demeanor is a grand arrogance, though they sincerely do not feel it.

    Again, J Street? This might also be a mimicry of K Street, the famous DC street for powerful lobbyists. All sorts of possibilities–a leftist nod to the mythical “powerful Jewish lobby” which they wish to counterbalance? I would gamble the founders are trust fund reds, or the children of the same, and very Washington oriented.

  5. JD says:

    “And Where is the A-Street?”

    I just now learned another oddity, there is no “J Street” in D.C. Many explanations, look at Snope for one.

    Again, the choice of this name J Street is very Washington insider, not grass rootsy.

    Check recent article on news search, for connections to Qatar.

  6. sshender says:

    I never actually took the time to go over the “We Believe” part of the Arabs for Israel (though being familiar with its key players), and now that I finally did, it just strikes me as so simple and middle of the road. There nothing radically pro-Jewish there – just the basics you would expect from a vicilized person/society and the prerequisites for a viable solution to the conflict. And yet, it is light years away from what the mainstream Arab/Muslim discource which, when put in such a perspective, is astoundingly intransigent and uncompromising.

    The only problem with people like Shoebat is, that they did not stop at renouncing Islam, but went on to become evangelical Christians, whose lack of objectivity towards Israel is well known. I do not for a second doubt or diminish the invaluable information he shares about his experiences in the ranks of the PLO, but his advocacy for Israel is tainted by his newly acquired ideology.

    This is why prefer ex-muslim atheists like Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan and Ibn Warraq to make the case for Israel, because they really don’t have an axe to grind.

  7. sshender says:

    Oh, and just recently came across this book:

    Arabs in the Mirror: Images and Self-Images from Pre-Islamic to Modern Times

    The short discription of which reads:
    What is an Arab? Though many in the West would answer that question with simplistic stereotypes, the reality is far more complex and interesting. Arabs themselves have been debating Arab identity since pre-Islamic times, coming to a variety of conclusions about the nature and extent of their “Arabness.” Likewise, Westerners and others have attempted to analyze Arab identity, reaching mostly negative conclusions about Arab culture and capacity for self-government. To bring new perspectives to the question of Arab identity, Iraqi-born scholar Nissim Rejwan has assembled this fascinating collection of writings by Arab and Western intellectuals, who try to define what it means to be Arab. He begins with pre-Islamic times and continues to the last decades of the twentieth century, quoting thinkers ranging from Ibn Khaldun to modern writers such as al-Ansari, Haykal, Ahmad Amin, al-’Azm, and Said. Through their works, Rejwan shows how Arabs have grappled with such significant issues as the influence of Islam, the rise of nationalism, the quest for democracy, women’s status, the younger generation, Egypt’s place in the Arab world, Israel’s role in Middle Eastern conflict, and the West’s “cultural invasion.” By letting Arabs speak for themselves, Arabs in the Mirror refutes a prominent Western stereotype—that Arabs are incapable of self-reflection or self-government. On the contrary, it reveals a rich tradition of self-criticism and self-knowledge in the Arab world.

    I don’t like to prejudge, having not yet read the whole thing (but am going to, especially the chapter about Israel) but the last sentence sounds disingenuous enough to mar his whole thesis. Isn’t it amazing that even in the rare occasion when Arabs do specifically turn a mirror at themselves what we get is not some much needed introspection and soul searching but just more of the self congradulating rhetoric that we’re so familiar with.

  8. E.G. says:

    sshender,

    When Shoebat tells about his grandpa’s friendship with Mufti Al-Husseini, and of the Mufti’s Nazi legacy indoctrinating generations of “June 4 born Palestinians”, he’s credible enough. And he’s far from being the only person lacking objectivity vis-à-vis Israel.
    Besides, his view of Israel as a model and salvation for Arabs, especially those from former Palestine, is shared by a few (non-vocal ones) of his former brethren who have neither immigrated nor converted.

    People like Walid Shoebat, Magdi Allam and Nonie Darwish provide specific, singular insights of people who grew up in the region. Who were actually in touch with Israelis as enemies.

  9. Eliyahu says:

    Nissim Rejwan is an Israeli originally from Iraq. He has been writing on these matters for 45 years or so. He had several articles in Midstream mag back in the 60s.

    Now, he may have been reached by insidious influences, I can’t be sure. But anyhow, I believe that Arab writers who have written more objecively about Israel, Jews, Zionism should be known [and their works known] in America. But somehow so much important writing never gets translated into English. Abdel-Kader wrote in French, Le Conflit judeo-arabe, circa 1966, and Le Moyen-Orient [ou Proche-Orient] a la veille d’un tournant. The first title was translated into Italian and Spanish but never into English.

    Magdi Allam’s Viva Israele, was never translated into English. So those who depend on English alone for their information are gonna be left iggorit. Allam’s book, by the way, is topical, smoothly written, has an interesting personal story and sound reasoning. It could be a big seller if translated into English –maybe.

    I’d really like to know how come books like Allam’s are not published in the USA. Especially when Allam’s at least would likely sell well. On the other hand, Abdel-Razek was a Marxist and for that reason publication might be resisted and some folks might be offended, besides the fact that today’s “marxists” would find him politically incorrect and the leaders of the cause or movement need to protect their herd from anything that might make them think.

    Then there was a book by another Allam, one Khalid Allam [no relation to Magdi, as far as I know], a prof of sociology in Italy who wrote in Italian a “Letter to a suicide terrorist” or some such title. It’s a short book and is also topical and written in a literary style rather than an academic style. It too might sell OK. But the American publishers might not want to contradict the standard narrative. I might roughly summarize that narrative as: All the Arabs hate Israel and are dying to go off on “martyrdom” missions against Israel –and because of Israel, against the West.

    walt-mearsheimer were not far from that narrative although their book was a jumble full of inner contradictions, profound stupidities, lies, mendacious insinuations, etc. But it sold.

    LET’S NOT UPSET THE HOLY NARRATIVE, WHATEVER WE DO!!

  10. E.G. says:

    Eliyahu,

    I read Magdi Allam’s book in French.(Editions du Rocher)

  11. Eliyahu says:

    EG, I have looked through the book and read parts here and there but not all of it. Do you agree that it’s readable, holds the reader’s interest and could sell well in the USA??

    I read the part where he talks of having a girlfriend as a teenager whom he did not know was Jewish. And for that association his phone was tapped and he was put in jail, etc.

  12. E.G. says:

    Eliyahu,

    It’s an interesting, easily read account. The title (Viva Israele/Pour que vive Israël) is not misleading but, IMO, not wisely chosen, because it’s automatically repulsive for non-Zionists.

    The girl was the Ausrtian’s(?) ambassador’s daughter…

  13. Blog Summary says:

    My own war crime: personal reflections following the Goldstone Report…

    When the Goldstone report was first mentioned in this blog, one of the readers asked me what is it exactly…

  14. Cynic says:

    E.G.,

    There’s a new book out titled Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.

    which is aimed at the American market and does not seem to be very negative while the topic discussed would certainly interest some non-Zionists.

    Here’s the Q&A from NRO:
    A Military Can Do Wonders for an Economy

  15. E.G. says:

    Slightly O/T but here’s what happens if one happens to anger our “peace partners”:

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3797360,00.html

  16. Lorenz Gude says:

    Ah yes, the Holy Narrative. Nicely done chaps. I recently noticed anew how well controlled the Holy Narrative is on my current visit to the US from Australia. I went to Borders. It seems most of the books in the place are NY Times best sellers or were written by someone who had a NY Times best seller. I found one book that said “National Best Seller” – I’m like WTF? The hegemony of the centralized old media is pretty astounding. I would suppose maintaining the Holy Narrative would extend to Yale not publishing the cartoons and other little curiosities of our culture.

  17. Thick Black Theory…

    An interesting post over at . . ….

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