Posted on May 24, 1999 in Washington Watch
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), fresh from its most recent defeat, has struck again. Their recent rabid attack against my son Joseph, whom they sought to have removed from his position at the State Department, backfired against them.
If anything the entire episode turned into an Arab American victory. Joseph had already decided to leave the State Department and accept a position as a civil rights attorney with the Department of Justice (DOJ) one month before the ZOA attack was launched. His decision to move to the DOJ was due, in part, to his disappointment at the failure of the State Department to make good on commitments they had made to him before he began his position one year ago.
Specifically, Joseph urged the State Department to take steps to increase Arab American involvement in the policy making process. He recommended they develop a recruitment program for young Arab Americans, do more outreach to the Arab American community and hire a senior level Arab American to the Department.
In response to the ZOA attack and the shameful support it received from other, more main-stream American Jewish organizations, 17 Arab American organizations developed a consensus position, which they presented to the State Department and White House, calling on the Administration to implement the very ideas that Joseph proposed.
The Arab American leaders, gathering in Washington, DC, met with top State Department and White House officials. At the end of the daylong discussions, we received several commitments, including:
Â·the development of a recruitment program to encourage young Arab Americans to join the foreign service;
Â·appointments and hirings of Arab Americans at the White House and State Department; and
Â·a series of regular follow-up meetings to gauge progress.
The Arab Americans also sought a public acknowledgement by the Administration of the need for greater inclusion and diversity in White House and State Department hiring policies and a repudiation of the claim advanced by the Anti- Defamation League (ADL) that “We believe…that there is no room at a U.S. government agency, the State Department, for individuals who publicly advocate antagonistic views of Israel…I feel confident…had the State Department been aware…that such views were publicly stated, I’m not sure whether or not that is where Joe Zogby would have [been employed].” These, they also succeeded in getting.
Summarizing Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s feelings on the need to hire more Arab Americans, State Department Spokesperson Jamie Rubin said, “We do want to see Arab-Americans in the Near East Bureau…. [Secretary Albright] would like to get people in there that are not there now…. I think Secretary Albright is determined to create diversity in the State Department in a number of ways, including through having Arab-Americans in the State Department. That’s a commitment that she believes in. We’re working on how to achieve that commitment.”
Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk echoed this pledge: “There are very few Arab Americans working in the State Department in any area. The Clinton Administration is committed to a diverse workplace, and in that context we do feel it is important to have Arab Americans in the State Department.”
Indyk also disavowed the ADL’s statement and denied that there is any “litmus test” on views for State Department hirings. “We live in a democracy in which people are entitled to their views and to express them freely…. The litmus test cannot and must not be what their views were before they entered the Administration…or what their ethnicity is. It must be whether they are talented and fair-minded,” Indyk argued.
As if one defeat were not enough, however, the ZOA came back with yet another bizarre attack last week. Their latest target is a remarkable Muslim American leader, Dr. Laila Al-Marayati. The ZOA is insisting that she be removed from a position to which President Clinton recently appointed her. She is currently the only Muslim American serving on the Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Dr. Al-Marayati is the daughter of a prominent Palestinian American leader, Dr. Sabri Al Farra, known to many for his long years of service to the Arab American community. She is married to Salam Al-Marayati the Executive Director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an important voice for Muslim Americans in the United States.
Dr. Al-Maryati has achieved renown for her pervious service as a member of the State Department’s Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad. She was also the only Muslim American included in First Lady Hillary Clinton’s delegation to the International Women’s Conference in Beijing.
The ZOA attack on Dr. Al-Marayti attempts to characterize her as a Muslim extremist and seeks to smear her with their usual tactics of guilt by association and grossly distorted quotes taken out of context.
Once again, the ZOA attack failed. The Administration has rejected the calls to dismiss Dr. Al-Maryati and other American Jewish organizations did not join in and endorse their campaign.
The lessons learned from all of this are that Arab Americans are today strong enough to defend their rights and to turn an attack against them into victory.
Mobilization of 17 Arab American organizations is an important indicator that when the community needs to come together it can and when it does come together it has the power to win.
It is also important in this instance that Arab Americans did not engage in a diversionary fight with the ZOA. By remaining positive and by being focused on achieving outcomes, we were able to achieve the results we sought. Now the real work begins.
The White House and State Department have made commitments and promised periodic follow-up meetings to gauge progress. It will be necessary to present them with qualified applicants and at the same time continue to mobilize political pressure until the goals of diversity and inclusion are achieved.
Toward these ends, we have launched a campaign seeking endorsements from a wide range of civil and ethnic communities to repudiate the ZOA campaign of exclusion and to support greater hiring diversity. There is also an effort by supportive members of Congress led by Congressman Nick Rahall (D-WV) to press the State Department and the White House on this matter. Currently, Congressman Rahall is circulating in Congress a letter to Secretary Albright. In part, the letter states, “The State Department must reflect on the obvious question raised by the lack of Arab Americans within the Department. As immigrants and descendants of immigrants from Arab counties, Arab Americans have much to offer us in terms of expertise and insight as we chart a course for peace in the region. Their inclusion at the State Department should be an essential part of our plan.”
Congressman Rahall is correct. It is a recognition that Arab Americans have sought for many years. It is ironic that the role and leadership of Arab Americans is now being acknowledged in response to an attack which sought to exclude us.
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