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House of Congress Photo: AP
House of Congress Photo: AP
 
 
Ray Hanania  

 

Chutzpah needed

McCullom challenge to AIPAC puts challenge not to Israel but to Arab Americans

Published: 05.21.06, 10:03 / Israel Opinion

I often perform for Jewish-American and Israeli organizations.

 

In New York, I did a comedy show for Peace Now. I knew Peace Now was a Jewish organization because if it were Arab, it would go by a different name.

 

Like ... Peace Now, and Then. Peace Now, or Never. Peace Now … it could happen.

 

Other Israeli organizations have included Hillel, B’nai B’rith and the White House. I’ve yet to be invited by the U.S. Congress, but we know they are Israeli occupied territory, too.

 

AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Council, pretty much rules the roost there when it comes to Middle East issues.

 

Tough customer

 

But there are a few people who won’t bend, like a tough little lady from Minnesota. Betty McCullom is one of two members of the House International Relations Committee that refused to bend to AIPAC pressure and vote for a bill to cut off funding to the Palestinians.

 

According to McCullom, and hardly reported in the American media, an AIPAC lobbyist criticized her saying AIPAC would not forget someone who supports terrorism. Ouch!

 

The Minnesota Democrat quickly announced she is cutting off all ties with AIPAC and denounced the threat as "hateful" and "vile."

 

That ain’t gonna get McCullom any AIPAC cash that flows through congress like gasoline in an automobile. An AIPAC lobbyist said McCullom’s version of the conversation is flat out wrong.

 

Arrogant lobby

 

Yeah, right. Like AIPAC doesn’t strut through the halls of Congress bragging about whom they’ll nail in the next election or which will

get more cash for their campaigns.

Let’s be honest, Israelis and supporters of Israel are riding high, these days. So they can demand 100 percent obedience from members of Congress.

 

Now, despite some run-ins with the American Constitution, free speech and occasionally laws like the one that prohibits spying or turning over American top secrets to a foreign nation, AIPAC is merely doing what all lobby groups do. They are the best at it. And they are also tough and brutal. If AIPAC says jump, some members of congress say “How high?”

No competition

 

The bill is going to pass with or without McCullom’s support. You have to wonder why AIPAC is so brutal.

 

It’s not like they have any real competition.

 

There is the Arab American Institute, which is more of a cult honoring the personal charisma of Jim Zogby than a political lobbying organization.

 

AAI raises cash mainly for Arab American candidates and supports a growing roster of elected Arab American officials. But it’s nothing compared to the funds that AIPAC raises not just for Jewish American congressmen, but for congressmen who support Israel. Basically, everyone else.

 

The problem is not with the AAI or with the other, few Arab lobbying organizations like the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP). They’re all very skilled. The problem is the Arab American community. It’s not doing enough for the Palestinians.

 

Show of competition

 

Without a strong, networked and coordinated grassroots constituency, AAI and ATFP can only do so much.

 

Arab Americans are cheap. Worse, when an Arab tries to do something for the community, five other Arabs rush to do the same thing. Not to merge their voices in a show of strength, but to compete.

 

Envy is the fastest way to push an apathetic Arab American off his laurels. You start a business, they start a business just to keep you from succeeding. You start a newspaper, they start a newspaper, just to keep your newspaper from getting enough advertising.

 

There's an old Arab saying I've recited so much I'm almost blue in the face: The devil gave an Arab, an Israeli and an American a tour of hell. In the first room, the Devil showed the Israeli where bad Israelis go, into a vat of boiling oil with the devil’s disciples on the edge using their pitch forks to push the bad Israelis back down. The same for the Americans.

 

But at the room for the bad Palestinians, the vat of boiling oil was filled to the brim but there were no Devil’s Disciples pushing anyone back down with pitchforks like in the other two rooms. That prompted the Arab to boast that they must be special.

 

The devil answered, you sure are. I don’t have to waste my disciples on your people. Whenever an Arab tries to lift himself out, the Arabs underneath him pull him back down faster than my disciples. It’s so true.

 

Chutzpah needed

 

And yet knowing that tragic fact about the Arab American community, that they are often their own worst enemies, Congresswoman McCullom still decided to stand up to AIPAC.

 

That’s chutzpah. She has the kind of courage that makes great leadership.

 

It’s too bad that the Arab American community is so divided and lacking in political maturity to be effective at all. There is so much they could do to help the Palestinians, but they can’t get past their selfish problems, rivalries, and inability to organize.

 

I remember another courageous congressman, Jim Moran, who stood up to the Israeli lobby, then lamented that he just doesn’t understand why Arab Americans continue to be their own worst enemies.

 

It will be interesting to see if Arab Americans respond with action rather than just words. But I think McCullom is going to have to carry the fight all on her own. Because for some elected officials, doing the right thing is more important than winning.

 

Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American columnist, author and standup comedian. He can be reached at www.hanania.com .

 

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