Posted on September 22, 1997 in Washington Watch

By now the world knows of Roger Tamraz, a Lebanese American, and of his appearance before the U.S. Senate Committee investigating campaign finance irregularities in 1996.

What is not so well known is how some on the far right of U.S. politics have attempted to use the Tamraz case to harm Arab Americans, in general, and in particular, Ed Gabriel, an Arab American nominated by President Clinton to serve as Ambassador to Morocco.

The allegations in the Tamraz case are simple, and given the state of U.S. politics, quite common. He is a businessman seeking support for a major international oil pipeline project. As a major donor to both the Democratic Party and the President’s 1996 reelection campaign, party officials apparently assisted Tamraz in gaining access to White House officials to discuss his project. There have been no allegations that Tamraz violated any laws. Rather, the focus of the committee’s attention is whether on or not Democratic Party and White House officials gave improper attention to a campaign donor.

While this case was being played out in full view of a national television audience, a disturbing game was being played behind the scenes.

For several weeks now, both Congressional officials and selected media figures have been receiving strange phone calls alleging a connection between Tamraz and Ed Gabriel, the Ambassadorial nominee. There have also been suggestions of a connection between Tamraz and myself.

Gabriel was to have his Senate hearing on Thursday to determine whether he would be confirmed for his post. But on Sunday a staff person from the committee that was to review Gabriel’s nomination received a call from an individual claiming to be Tamraz saying that Gabriel had improperly solicited funds from him in return for political access.

Tamraz has publicly denied that he made that phone call and denies that he knows Gabriel or that Gabriel had ever called him soliciting money. Furthermore, Gabriel asserts that he has never met Tamraz and does not know him. Nevertheless, given the hysterical state of politics in Washington, the false allegations alone were enough to put a delay on Gabriel’s hearing. It has now been postponed and needs to be rescheduled.

An article that appeared last Wednesday in the Washington Times, whose editorial pages are notorious for their anti-Arab and right wing views, further compounded the situation. The author was Kenneth Timmerman a columnist associated with a number of far-right groups. Timmerman’s article not only suggests a connection between Tamraz and Gabriel, but also suggests a link between my Institute (the Arab American Institute) and Tamraz.

Timmerman’s article is filled with anti-Arab innuendo, warning for example, of “obscure Arab businessmen who have been seeking for years to influence U.S. policy,” and of “Arab money” seeking “political favors.”

Timmerman even suggests that Secretary Albright’s recent decision to lift the travel ban on Lebanon was bought by Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and asks, “How much money changed hands . . . to win this change in U.S. policy?” And all of these outrageous charges are persuaded by Timmerman without a shred of evidence to back them up.

The Timmerman article is a classic example of unsubstantiated anti-Arab bigotry. It is wrong not only in its basic assumption: Ed Gabriel never met and does not know Roger Tamraz. But it is filled with countless other errors as well.

We can and have rebutted in press releases all of the false allegations and the errors in fact. But to merely criticize the errors and lies of the Timmerman article misses the point of why it was written in the first place. The key question to be asked is what individuals and groups were behind the calls to Congress and the media and to the Timmerman article? And what is their agenda?

On the face of it the motives seem clear: to hurt Ed Gabriel’s chances to become an Ambassador (he will be the first high-level Arab American appointed by President Clinton’s second term) and to discredit Arab Americans in general by suggesting that their activity is part of some foreign conspiracy to “buy influence to subvert the U.S.” It is also a part of the continuing effort to discredit the Clinton Administration, by linking them and their policy decisions to shadowy Arab money.

In any case, whoever these groups and individuals might be, they will fail. First the White House has made it clear that they are supporting Mr. Gabriel and that they know the allegations are false. They are therefore continuing to push his appointment. Even the Senate committee has rejected the false allegations and has decided instead to investigate the “fake “ phone call attributed maliciously to Mr. Tamraz.

And Arab Americans will not be so easily defeated. We faced similar anti-Arab attacks in the past and know how to fight back. We have complained to the White House and the Department of Justice about the effort to violate our civil rights and have made it clear to the Congressional committees and the media that these false and bigoted attacks have no place in our political system.

What is important to note is that these attacks will be defeated, because Arab Americans are resolved to do so and have the political strength and organization to win. But it remains disheartening, nonetheless, that after all these years of struggle, that the struggle must continue.

For comments or information, contact jzogby@aaiusa.org

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