Posted on August 01, 2008 in Washington Watch

Saudi Arabia is becoming a campaign issue in the Congressional election in Virginia’ 11th District – and it’s not about oil. At issue is whether textbooks used by the Virginia’s Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA) teach “religious intolerance.”

The ISA, founded in 1984, has over 1,000 students. Because the land on which the school’s campuses are located is leased by the local county government to the ISA, the county Board of Supervisors has been under some pressure to not renew the lease as a way of forcing the school out of northern Virginia.

This is a side issue, to be sure, but it may become an important one in a race that will be hotly contested both because the incumbent is not running, and because there is a chance that the seat could switch from Republican to Democratic control. And so, it was not surprising when the Republican in the race seized upon this issue. He is making an effort to use it against his Democratic opponent who, as County Supervisor, supported the ISA’s lease.

The primary mover behind the attacks on the ISA is the U.S. Commission on Interreligious Freedom (USCRIF) – a neo-con creation, strongly biased against Islam. Not content with pressuring the local government, the USCRIF has also called for the U.S. State Department to regulate the Academy’s textbooks under the Foreign Missions Act. To date, the State Department has said that it is unsure whether the Foreign Missions Act applies and that, in any case, assurances have been given by ISA officials that the offensive materials will be out of the textbooks by this fall.

Oh, by the way, “Saudi Oil” will be still be used as an issue, even where it makes no sense.

Congressman Lee Terry (R-NE) sent out a mailing recently touting a plan to increase domestic oil production and expand alternative fuel technologies. All well and good, except the cover of the mailer shows a picture of the Saudi delegation at the OPEC summit of November 2007, with the slogan “We won’t have to beg them ever again for oil.”

The great irony in this particular photo choice was that the November summit, convened to discuss the effect of the oil industry on the environment, was dominated by a charge led by Iran and Venezuela to change all their currency reserves to something other than the depreciating dollar. While Terry sought to portray Saudi Arabia the enemy of the U.S. on oil, the fact is that at this meeting Saudi Arabia, in fighting to keep OPEC currency reserves in dollars, substantially helped maintain the value of dollar at the expense of their own economy. One might have thought that Terry, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, would have known better – but then, he’s only a member of the U.S. Congress.

Want more evidence why the most recent Zogby International poll shows the public approval rating for Congress down to 14% (with 83% disapproval)? A review of some recent activity makes it all clear.

In January of this year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a thoughtful memo, “Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims.” The memo defined Islamic terms and noted that misusing them was both hurtful to Muslims and could do damage to much-needed efforts at dialogue.

Along comes the “crusader” (and I use the term judiciously), Congressman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) with an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization bill designed to “bar the use of funds to prohibit the use of the words or phrases ‘jihadist,’ ‘jihad,’ ‘Islamo-fascism,’ ‘caliphate,’ ‘Islamist,’ or ‘Islamic terrorist’ by … the Federal Government.” The amendment passed 248-180, striking a blow for freedom of speech or dumbness (take your pick).

Also this month, Congress passed the State Department Authorization bill, which provides not only the funds for its operation but also all of the various U.S. foreign aid programs. As in every year since the Oslo Accords, the bill places a number of conditions on any aid to the Palestinians, some burdensome and some downright bizarre.

Take Section 647, which, according to a summary provided by Americans for Peace Now, stipulates that “no funds appropriated in this Act may be used to create any U.S. government office in Jerusalem to conduct business with the Palestinian Authority or any successor to the Palestinian Authority. The section also states that meeting between U.S. officials and PA officials should take place in locations other than Jerusalem.”

A new poll conducted by gerstein/agne strategic communications for J Street, the new pro-peace pro-Israel lobbying group, demonstrates just how balanced American Jewish opinion is on Middle East issues, despite the efforts of more hard-line elements of the pro-Israel lobby. For example, a majority of American Jews: consider settlement activity “a real obstacle to peace;” believe that Israeli military actions that target terrorists but kill civilians “create more terrorism;” believe that Israel should negotiate even with its worst enemies; and that Israel should withdraw from the Golan Heights, and “most of the West Bank and dismantle settlements” in exchange for full peace.

Over 80% of American Jews would support the U.S. government “exerting pressure on both Israelis and Palestinians to make compromises necessary for peace.”

Finally, this month the Barack Obama campaign has hired two full-time outreach directors, one for Arab American outreach and one for outreach to American Muslims. In addition, they have put up on their website an official “Arab Americans for Obama” web page. While these developments may not seem noteworthy to some, they represent, on both counts, firsts in American presidential campaign politics.

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