So I went to see James Zogby speak.
He is also brother of John Zogby, founder and owner of the powerful polling agency Zogby International and currently works for his brother as a “senior analyst.” Among his other accomplishments, Zogby is active politically and sits on the DNC’s Executive Committee.
I was expecting an acrimonious attack on Israel. Zogby threw me for a loop.
He spoke against the Iraq war. He spoke against the mistake America has made in going to this war. He also spoke about America’s mistaken Middle East policies and specifically with respect to the Palestinian situation.
He kept praising Jews, Israelis and the Jewish Community.
He did it in his talk and he did it again in the question period that followed. He praised Israelis who seek a 2 state solution and the numerous American Jews who believe that America’s foreign policy needs to be more even-handed. He spoke about the openness of Israeli democracy and how impressed he was in his visits to the Knesset with the integrity of the debate. He specifically spoke about Yossi Beilin being able to speak openly while the majority Right wing parties had to listen.
In over an hour, this leading Arab American said only positive things about Jews.
For years now, every time I go to an event that involves individuals from the Left or the Arab side, the attacks on Israel’s behavior and on Jewish support in America for Israel thanks to Jewish blah blah blah (insert your favorite sphere of Jewish “control”) leave me with a feeling that there is a lack of integrity, historical accuracy, and objective judgement on the part of the attackers. As an example, let’s take the Arab graduate of Hebrew University who won scholarships sponsored by Jewish sources who complained of discrimination.
Also, let’s not forget the forum! This crowd was comprised of Muslims, Arabs, people of Arab descent, people who study Islam and the Arab world, and people who have a sympathy for Arab and Muslim cultures. I’m sure we all know the general message that community has been expressing about ours (I guess the Duke campus is a current example). And yet, even in this forum, the example Zogby set was a positive one. He not only praised Jews, but he also viciously decried the lunacy of suicide bombings. Twice. Heck, in the question period, he even refused to denounce the annual US aid to Israel (I couldn’t tell whether this was because he doesn’t believe it influences anybody in Israel, or whether it’s because he believes the US Congress would never vote it down).
On the other hand, he did attack one large group. Who? Well, this Maronite Christian, who was born in the US to parents who I believe came from Lebanon, attacked the Religious Right in the US at great length. He considers them to be evil, and the primary driving force in the “mistaken” US approach to Middle Eastern politics. To be sure, he attacked Neo-Cons a number of times (no comments about their heritage, though he did call them a cult), and Bernard Lewis was the butt of some angry comments, but his sense is that they, and this government, derive their power and some of their positions, from the powerful Christian fundamentalists.
Zogby seems to perceive the Christian Fundamentalist desire to perpetuate the conflict to be based upon their motivation to bring about an apocalypse. He supposes that this drives them to support policies that encourage the conflict to persist. As an example, he mentioned Pat Robertson’s recent veiled threat to Bush that if he supported the unilateral Gaza withdrawal, that Pat would launch a “third party” in the US.
Zogby believes the flaw in this master strategy is that it not only affects the Israelis, Palestinians and other Arabs, but that the consequences are affecting the US directly.
At the end of the talk, I approached Zogby to thank him for the talk and for being so fair-minded in his discussion about Israel and the Jewish community.
He hugged me.
I think it’s hard for friends to make peace. In truth, it’s often enemies who have to make peace. Also, I’m confident that were Zogby and I to sit down and analyze our beliefs in detail, finding common ground would be very challenging. However, I also think it’s crucial that if Arab-Americans or any Arabs or Muslims have leaders who don’t vilify Jews and Israel, or resort to overt or covert anti-semitism in speaking and dealing with or about us, we need to encourage their success.
If we push aside the reasonable people, the vacuum becomes filled with the loonies on the fringes.