1 - 7 July 1999
Issue No. 436
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Getting into the processBy Tarek Atia
When Joe Zogby, a 29-year-old Arab American lawyer, was approached by Martin Indyck, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, with an offer to work as his assistant for a year, a Pandora's box was opened.
"People in the community advised me against working in the State Department because they disagree with Mideast policy," Zogby told Al-Ahram Weekly. "They said no purpose would be served. But I disagree with that perspective. The only way that we as Arab Americans will influence the process is by participating fully."
Joe Zogby took the risk. He risked being the token Arab in a foreign policy circle that even Jewish Americans openly admit leans heavily on Jews. Later, Zogby's boss, Martin Indyck, was to be accused by Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, of hiring Zogby in an attempt to silence criticism that too many Jews control US Middle East policy.
It should be noted that while Indyck himself was a major player in the Zionist lobby before joining the State Department, he is now considered by that same lobby to be someone who, as an editorial in the New York Post put it, "has his job, in part because he loathes the current Likud government in Israel."
The paper went on to wonder what Indyck was "trying to prove" by hiring Zogby.
Zogby says Indyck "wanted someone there to sensitise people to the Arab perspective."
Zogby had actually been working with Indyck for just under a year when the Pandora's box really began to reveal some of the riper treasures it contained. It began with Zionist organisations calling for his ousting, accusing him of being an "Israel-hater" and dredging up articles Zogby had written years earlier as proof.
Zogby's passionate articles, pleas for a fairer US policy on Israeli-Palestinian relations, published in the Washington Report on the Middle East and on the Internet, were cut up and presented as evidence of Zogby's crime: being anti-Israeli.
"I believe the agenda of the people who spearheaded this campaign is clear," Zogby says. "They wanted to impose a rigid ideological litmus test on foreign service and exclude Arabs. The people who attacked me want to silence dissenting voices. They don't want people who have been critical of Mideast policy to be involved in the process in any way."
In a mad whirl, the Zionist lobby conjured up press conferences calling Zogby's appointment "outrageous" and "obscene". "We believe," said one organisation, "that there is no room for individuals who publicly advocate antagonistic views of Israel." Sidney Zion, in the New York Daily News, wrote a story that was headlined, "An Israel Hater Is At the Centre of Mideast Policy", and in which Zogby is described as "a virulent foe of Israel". In an article in the New York Post about Zogby, another writer went so far as to say, "This guy shouldn't be working as a dog-catcher."
"It was personally unpleasant for me," Zogby says, "but in my view, ultimately, the smear campaign backfired. It served as a catalyst for a debate on the intolerance of these organisations and a call for more Arab Americans in government. The debate led the Clinton administration to publicly commit to hiring more Arab Americans. So it was actually a victory for advocates or believers in greater diversity. Now our task is to maintain pressure on the Clinton administration."
In fact, State Department Spokesman James Rubin confirmed that Secretary Madeleine Albright "is determined to create diversity in the State Department in a number of ways, including through having Arab Americans. That's a commitment she believes in. We're working on how to achieve that commitment."
Zogby doesn't work for Indyck anymore. He finished up his year-long contract, and turned down a promotion that would have let him stay on. He wasn't dismissed by Indyck, as the Zionist lobby claimed. In fact, Indyck himself told the Anti-Defamation League on 26 April, that Zogby "has been thoughtful, intelligent and very hard working. [He] does not have extreme views, as anybody who knows or has worked with him will attest. He has not been fired or ousted, nor will he be."
Zogby calls his tenure at State "a great learning experience, and I hope it was a learning experience for the people I worked with as well. I intend to use what I learned outside." He now works at the Justice Department, and is going to be a lawyer for the first time since he got out of law school, dealing mainly in civil rights issues -- another important field for Arab Americans to make their mark in, especially considering recent US anti-terrorist laws that seem to specifically target Arab Americans' civil rights.
The battleground is on many fronts, and as Zogby says, "US foreign policy is a product of domestic politics. That's the reality of a democratic political system. That's why it's so important for Arab Americans to mobilise and do what other groups do."
The model, for many, is the Jewish lobby. Jews have been working as foreign service career officers since the beginning of the century. They also have well-placed supporters in the business, media and legal fields.
"When I talk to Arab Americans about the need to be in public service, a lot of them are very discouraged," Joe Zogby says, "because they feel the policy is anti-Arab, and I understand that disillusionment, but I firmly believe that the only way to improve the policy is to be active. We have a long way to go, but we should be inspired. The idea 20 years ago that the president would meet regularly with Arab Americans wasn't conceivable."
It is that little slice of the policy-making pie, barely a sliver, that the Zionists are trying to whittle away. Joe's father, James Zogby, a prominent Arab American lobbyist, recently wrote that "the attacks being directed at Arab Americans today are in response to the successes we have achieved. Some extremists are frightened that Arab Americans are more respected in political circles. They are desperately seeking to re-establish the old policy of exclusion that for decades kept Arab Americans out of politics."
Joe Zogby's time at State taught him that when it comes to the major foreign policy decisions taken by the US government, "the constant struggle for any policy-maker is to influence the policy-making process, and your ability to do so is determined by how effective you are in advocating your opinion, and how effective you are in making your advice relevant to the decision-making process.
"An average Arab American may disagree or want to change the Iraq policy rapidly," Zogby explains. "That's not going to happen overnight. It's an incremental process, and you have to be within the process in order to influence the policy."