Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Yalla Peace: Shut out the fanatics

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Yalla Peace: Shut out the fanatics

The Arabs’ failure to lead has allowed a small
cabal of Palestinian extremists to hijack the Palestinian cause.

As soon as the first-ever conference of Arab expatriates hosted in Cairo earlier this month by the League of Arab Nations closed, the fanatics dropped from their damp dark caves and started to scream that it was a sham.

The conference, backed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, is calling on Palestinians and Arabs who are expatriates living in the West but more importantly in the United States, to organize.

The conference concluded with many goals including creating an “organizational framework for Arab expatriates” while fostering “a dialogue of civilizations, cultures and religions.”

Pro-Israeli media and pundits immediately criticized the conference, complaining that too much of it was focused on the Palestinian issue and that much of it was based on confronting Israeli extremism rather than pursuing dialogue.

The conference clearly endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative outlined in 2002, one that Israel continues to run from because it requires tough compromises.

But more importantly, the Palestinians and the Arab League want to rip control of the Palestinian cause from the hands of fanatics and extremists in the United States whose sole mission has been to block peace and to reinforce the power of Hamas, the terrorist religious organization.

Immediately, Arab and Palestinian fanatics started launching public attacks against the conference and it is a growing theme they are selling to the Palestinian diaspora which sympathizes with the fanatic anger but support the moderate strategies. It sounds contradictory but for most moderate Palestinians, Israel has given them nothing to cheer about at all and everything to jeer about.

Almost all of Israel’s actions since the Oslo Accords have been geared towards maintaining the status quo while granting some power to the Palestinians, except the disengagement from Gaza in 2005. Israel wants to keep all of Jerusalem, all of the settlements, wants Palestinians to recognize it as a Jewish state.

IT IS about time that the Arab League nations finally did something. Their failure to lead has created a void which has allowed a small cabal of Palestinian extremists in the United States and Europe to hijack the Palestinian cause.

And they are no better than Israelis, speaking from both sides of their mouths, too. A good example is the movement to boycott products sold by Israelis that are manufactured or grown in the occupied West Bank. The movement is spearheaded by a group called Jewish Voice for Peace.

They say they target products made in the West Bank but many of their leaders are working hand-in-hand with Palestinian-American extremists who are also targeting products made in Israel.

These Palestinian extremists are anti-Semitic and driven by hatred. They say one thing but always mean something else.

Israelis don’t help much, as I have already pointed out. Instead of drawing a proper line on things like anti-Semitism, Israel’s supporters like the Anti-Defamation League and the Zionist Organization of America headquartered in New York, call everything critical of Israel anti-Semitic.

What Israelis don’t realize is that their broad stroke, knee-jerk attacks of anti-Semitism, against even the harshest critics of Israel, like the venerable Helen Thomas, only weaken the moderate Palestinian voices.

In a way, Israeli actions often strengthen the Palestinian extremists and maybe that is intentional. Many Israelis don’t want to give up anything. They don’t want peace. And the Palestinian extremists help them get away with this unacceptable status quo.

As long as the Palestinian extremists have the upper hand, this Israeli strategy will work.

But the Expatriate Conference in Cairo can change that, especially if they follow through with concrete actions to strengthen the voices of Palestinian and Arab moderates in the West and particularly in the United States.

More importantly, they need to reach out to Palestinian moderates, slam down the extremist voices and speak consistently about peace based on the 2002 plan. Israelis, believe it or not, are no different than Arabs.

And if they believe peace is genuine, they just might support it.

The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Yalla Peace: WikiLeaks reminds us of reality

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Yalla Peace: WikiLeaks reminds us of reality

Everything we have always suspected

about the Arab world is true.

The revelations by WikiLeaks regarding the behindthe- scenes views and contacts between Israelis and Arabs are really much of a shocker. In fact, almost everything I have read only underscores what I always believed. The Arab world is ruled by dictators who don’t really care about their people or Palestine.

These dictators are concerned about all the things that kings and tyrants spend their time on: power, money and fun.

Israeli leaders have been holding secret meetings with the Arab governments since the 1947-49 war, from meetings with King Abdullah of Jordan, who was assassinated in 1951, to the wealthy dictator of Qatar, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.

None of this can give us comfort, though. In fact, WikiLeaks really confirms our worst fears. Everything we have always suspected about the Arab world is true.

Publicly, Arab leaders’ incendiary rhetoric against Israel preaches resistance and “steadfastness” to the Palestinians.

But privately, they set aside the venom and share tea and crumpets with the Israelis. They speak from both sides of their sheesha pipes, on the one hand blasting Israel for the public, on the other privately showing that they don’t believe a word they are telling said public Fascinating.

A real shocker might have been to read that an Arab leader told the Israelis in private what he says so often in public. But that would take courage – not a characteristic of Arab leaders.

Bombast and phoniness have been the way Arab dictators, monarchs, kings, queens (not in a generic sense) and tyrants conduct themselves in public, turning into spineless creatures of selfish pleasure in private.

WikiLeaks further “disclosed” that the Arabs fear Iran as much or perhaps more than Israel. Wow. Isn’t that why Saddam Hussein, when he was an American-funded dictator, led the failed war against Iran for 10 years? There didn’t need to be a document reporting that very few Arab leaders spend time schmoozing with Iran’s little dictator.

To the Arabs, a nuclear-armed Iran is more frightening than a nuclear-armed Israel.

In some ways, Arab governments are much like American administrations. Both will tolerate dictatorship as long as the dictators are their friends. In these cases, Arabs have high tolerance for themselves and each other.

WIKILEAKS ALSO shows the Arabs are not beyond their paranoia. Many are convinced that WikiLeaks is a Zionist plot to strengthen the Israeli drive to destroy Iran’s ayatollah-run nuclear-wielding government. You can read it in many of the columns now being published in the Arab media, especially those not under government control.

Of course, the theory is far more comforting to accept than the truth that Iran is a dictatorship that brutalizes its people.

Clearly, the WikiLeaks documents show that Arab world leaders are all talk and little action.

I was also really hoping for something more exciting from WikiLeaks, like the confirmation of many of the rumors I have heard over the years.

For example, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who you would think would love to curl his fingers around a juicy clump of lamb and rice mensiff, instead spoons chunks of matza and soup with the finesse of a British teetotaler.

Or, maybe that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman isn’t really racist, but thinks that acting like he has a special bone to pick with Arabs makes him a tougherlooking government official.

Most disappointing is that in a massive leak of documents like this, there is usually some reference to a sexual or naughty nature.

You mean to tell me that none of the Arab dictators who met with Kadima leader Tzipi Livni offered to make her a part of their harems that they pretend no longer exist? I like her. I’d make her my fourth wife.

The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Yalla Peace: Hanukka and Holidays at the Hanania household

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Yalla Peace: Hanukka and Holidays at the Hanania household

In recent years, as Hanukka and Christmas overlapped,
the holiday season became a minefield of decoration-related decisions.

Over the past few years, Hanukka, Christmas and the Id al-Adha all seemed to coincide. That made Arabs, Jews and Israelis happy. They saw it as a sign of better things to come. People were singing “Kumbaya.”

They were mixing words and phrases from each religion to create new “words of peace,” like “holiday treats for peace.” And they were offering trades to kickstart the stalled peace process: felafel for matza.

Arabs and Jews even tried writing Middle East peace songs together, until each side discovered that wasn’t easy either. Promises made in some of the choruses had been changed. Important words had been replaced. Some of the lyrics required side notes to explain what the original intent of the song was.

Pretty soon, everyone was singing a different tune. Like Middle East peace, we all know what the melody is but we just can’t get the words right.

MAKING PEOPLE believe in miracles may have been good for everyone else, but it wasn’t good in the Israeli-occupied Hanania household, where marriage has achieved what negotiations and even proximity talks have failed to do in the Middle East. It may have coincided for everyone else. But for my family, the holidays collided.

That Hanukka and Christmas both overlapped was a big problem. My wife, Alison, and I found ourselves in a cast iron battle over whose settlements – I mean decorations – would get the best locations in and around our house.

We fought over the front room coffee table. Do we put a menora or a crèche (Nativity scene)? Who gets to hang something on the front door? A Star of David or a picture of Jesus wrapped in a Palestinian flag? Both?

I discovered that Hanukka lights are more Jewish than Christian lights. The lights on her string decorations had shapes of dreidels, menorot, Stars of David and images of Binyamin Netanyahu.

Mine were little bulbs called “Italian lights.” What have the Italians ever done for peace anyway? She got to do something new every day with our son Aaron. Lighting one extra candle every night for eight days. I got to turn on a switch.

The lawn was a battleground too. I wanted to put up a big Santa Claus. You know, that chubby guy with the long, white beard that needs to be dyed, wearing an effeminate looking red suit with white fur. What does he really have to do with Christmas, I wonder? Although Jesus had a beard too, but it wasn’t bushy white.

She had a huge display of Jerusalem with a big sign quoting Ariel Sharon “indivisible capital for all eternity” that she said she wanted to keep there all year long. She got it free – after a small donation of $1,500 – from the Jewish United Fund.

Believe me, by the time we got through arguing over what went where, who got what and who started the Gaza war, we were beat, so tired we could barely enjoy the meal, the one moment when Arabs have an advantage over Israelis.

After all, Arabs may know how to build settlements and walls, barriers and murals, but Israelis can’t cook. They end up making our food and while we Arabs complain that they stole our culinary style, our humous and our Syrian – yes, Syrian – bread, the fact is deep down we prefer to have them serve us something.

THANK GOODNESS all that “signs from heaven” stuff has stopped. This year, Hanukka comes first and Christmas comes after.

She puts her stuff up and then I get to take it down and put up my stuff.

I then get to celebrate secular New Year and, afterward Orthodox New Year. My stuff goes up last and never gets taken down.

No “Kumbaya.” No pretending there are going to be any miracles of peace. No arguing over whose food is best or who owns what land.

One Christmas, Alison even stopped painting a green line through the house to designate what part was hers and what part was mine. She always said she would be fair in our marriage and we each get “half.” She gets 78 percent and I get 22.

But then I realized that her not painting the green line in our house was just an Israeli trick to make me forget where the 1949 armistice marriage agreement really was.

And I demanded that she paint it, but she still refuses till this day.

So this year, no fights over bells ringing or who gets to “deck” the Halls – the Halls, our neighbors, always hated it when we decked them when they came by, although the Halls are Jewish so I didn’t mind. No sighs pretending like there is going to be peace.

Just a lot of mistletoe, zaide’s sandwiches of corned beef, pastrami and chopped liver, and real happiness knowing we each get our turn. And I go last.

The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Helen Thomas is a hero slandered because of her fierce independence

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Helen Thomas is a hero. For more than 57 years, she has stood up to all forms of discrimination. First as a woman journalist in a man's world. Second as a fiercely objective journalist who questioned every President From Eisenhower to Obama with the same principles of justice, objectivity and balance. And Third, she is a hero because she has stood up to the onslaught of ugly name-calling from extremists in the American Jewish Community who are not happy kicking Palestinians out of Palestine, they want to kick them out of America, too.

Tonight, Thomas will receive among many honors the Dr. M.T. Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. The award was established in 1999 to honor the work of journalists who have stood up to hatred, fear mongering, defamation and slander because of their work. It is presented to journalists who have shown courage in speaking and writing the truth in the face of overwhelming public anger.

It is so easy for many mainstream American journalists to remain silent, rather than to expose the hypocrisies in American society, especially after the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001. It is easy because the hatred and racism against Arabs and Muslims in America has reached an unprecedented height. Arabs and Muslims are easy prey for racists and bigots because the American public is so uneducated about truth and accuracy and they are fed a constant stream of lies from the mainstream American media.

And those Arabs and Muslims who dare to challenge the lies in the coverage of the rights of the Palestinian people are even easier to target because on top of the bigots and racists who attack Arabs and Muslims, American Jews often also join in the assaults against morality and ethics.

You can read the blog called Elder of Ziyon, an often racistly anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate site to see this hypocrisy at work. (Click here to read their most recent hateful post.)

On the one hand, the writer argues that Helen Thomas did not say that Jews should get out of the occupied territory, making the precision of the words their strongest case. And then they hypocritically violate principle, morality and even truth, arguing that Helen Thomas said that Jews should get out of Israel. The fact is Helen Thomas NEVER used the word "Jews." She was asked by a racist rabbi what Israelis should do and she said "Get the hell out of Palestine."

The most outrageous example of bigotry and racist hate comes from Morton Klein, the head of the Zionist Organization of America. His history of racism and bigotry is shameful. Klein could care less about the truth. He is more concerned with protecting a foreign country rather than defending Americans from bigotry and racism. Klein prefers to defend Israel and he hates Helen Thomas for the very reason she deserves to be honored tonight by the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC, the National Arab American Journalists Association (

More than any other journalist, Helen Thomas was not afraid to challenge the hypocrisies and lies about Palestinians and Arabs and Muslims. She often asked the tough questions of Presidents exposing the hypocrisies of American Foreign policy that sacrificed truth and ethics for political bias towards one foreign country called Israel. And her colleagues, who rarely reported on her courageous challenges, shouted her down with their ugly silence and unprofessional and unjournalistic conduct.

NAAJA salutes Helen Thomas and American Arabs who refuse to be shouted down by bigots, demagogues and hatemongers like Morton Klein and others all because they have DARED to challenge the political polices of a foreign government, Israel.

-- Ray Hanania

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Yalla Peace: Seven deadly sins that prevent peace

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Yalla Peace: Seven deadly sins that prevent peace

What is it that motivates us to unite in prayer for rain but not to unite in prayer for real peace?

A major obstacle preventing Palestinian and Israeli peace is that our leaders do not genuinely speak of peace and have a mind-set that is based in anger.

They are so wrapped up in their negativity that they are incapable of coming together for peace and compromise, although they cover up their negativity by telling themselves that they do support peace, when they really do not.

I have always believed Israelis and Palestinians need a psychiatrist more than they need a nonpartisan negotiator like the US to bring them together. The truth of our conflict comes out in our actions more than in our words. We should all be laying back on couches as the psychiatrist brings out our deepest fears.

I follow Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Twitter. Most of the time his posts remind me of how hopeless Palestinian and Israeli leaders really are. He speaks about peace, but too often his words reflect the opposite.

Recently, on his Twitter page, he wrote: “Praying for rain unites Jews, Muslims and Christians.” He didn’t mean it as some major revelation about the historical relations between Palestinians and Israelis. It wasn’t a policy statement, nor a determination for peace. It was a subliminal gesture on his part that revealed what our problem really is.

DEEP DOWN we – Palestinians and Israelis – want everyone to come together. It makes us feel good. But we don’t want to pay the price for peace, which is compromise, and that leaves us with conflict. Rain is not conflict. But rain is one of those troublesome necessities of life. We need rain but we also fear rain, which can easily become thunderstorms, hurricanes and floods.

Rain can symbolize both a natural growth and a fierce natural destruction.

How come I never read Ayalon write on his Twitter page, “Respect and generosity unite Jews, Muslims and Christians.” Or “real peace where Israelis and Palestinians compromise and recognize each other unites Jews, Muslims and Christians.”

Ayalon’s Twitter post is so revealing because it represents exactly what is wrong with the relations between Israelis and Palestinians.

We look at the natural order of the world and spend all our time trying to change things that cannot be changed. We spend all our efforts rejecting the very answers and solutions that can bring change.

We can’t do anything about the weather, but we can do much to stop the violence. We can stop the killings. We can stop the hatred. We can stop the building of settlements. We can stop the firing of rockets. We can stop the assaults on civilians. We can stop the attacks on soldiers.

We can’t start or stop the rain.

So why do we pine for that which we can’t have, when what we can have sits right there under our noses? What is it that motivates us to unite in prayer for rain but not to unite in prayer for real peace? There are seven answers to that question, the psychiatrist might explain. Pining for rain is so much easier than pining for peace, at least according to the seven deadly sins that plague humanity – wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony.

Wrath: The eternal flame that brings Palestinians and Israelis so closely together. We often try to inflict more pain than what has been brought on ourselves.

Greed: The refusal by Israelis to surrender settlements and Palestinians to surrender a demand for the right of return.

Sloth: Peace requires real work and we have tired from failing over the years.

Pride: Wanting to look good to our people rather than doing the right thing and making them angry.

Lust: Israeli rejectionists see the West Bank as the wife of another man, and Palestinian rejectionists covet failed peace as their desired goal.

Envy: We hate what the other has.

Gluttony: We feed ourselves rhetoric that makes us fat with a false sense of having achieved something. We consume ourselves with a false belief that we are better than the other, and close our eyes to our own roles in the tragedy we all help to create.

I am sure that when Danny Ayalon wrote his Twitter post, he wasn’t thinking of all this. But I wish he did. The only thing we should allow to unite Jews, Muslims and Christians is praying for peace.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Yalla Peace: Can Jews live in a Palestinian state?

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Yalla Peace: Can Jews live in a Palestinian state?

Palestinians will come to accept the Jews living in ‘their’ country.

That we even have to ask the question “can Jews live in a Palestinian state” tells you how bad relations between Israelis and Palestinians have become. It explains what the real problem is – bad attitude, exaggerated fear.

Of course Jews can live in a Palestinian state. I would argue that they would be better treated than the Arab citizens of Israel who did not flee or were not forced out by the Hagana and Irgun in 1948.

But it comes up now in the context of a possible, though reluctant, effort to achieve a peace accord.

Why not allow some of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank to remain but as a part of a Palestinian state, with the settlers living under Palestinian rule? Could it be worse than Palestinians living under Israeli rule?

The only issue is one of land, of course. Israelis who object to compromise and therefore reject peace argue that the conflict is not about land but about Palestinian and Arab refusal to recognize Israel. The Arabs have recognized Israel. The real question is, have Israelis recognized Palestine?

Do Palestinians have a right to govern themselves in historic Palestine? And please don’t throw in that racist argument (yes, it is racist) that Jordan is Palestine. No one called Jordan Palestine, except European Jews. And have Jews recognized Palestine enough that some might want to live there as “Jewish citizens of Palestine”? Some Jewish settlements can be annexed into Israel in the context of a final peace, with an exchange of lands: Israel trades one dunam of Israeli land for every dunam of settlements in the West Bank retained, including settlements around Jerusalem like Gilo.

Jewish settlements not traded to Israel could and should remain in Palestine. And they deserve the protection and equality that everyone should strive to achieve, not just in Palestine but in Israel.

A POST-CONFLICT Israel will eventually change. It won’t be run by extremists using fear mongering to pump up the fight. Palestinians will join Israelis to impose justice and the rule of law, and they will work together to fight crime and terrorism. And the terrorism won’t just be coming from the small handful of remaining Palestinian extremists. I hope and believe a Palestinian state will also overcome the same obstacles that will confront a final peace.

The issue of who owned the land will have to be addressed. Settlements built on land expropriated from Palestinians will have to be resolved in the form of compensation and other trade-offs.

I know many Palestinians will object to all of this. Of course they would. They are like Israelis, whipped up into a frenzy by political leaders who fear monger, too. But peace will be like a soothing balm on a wound. As the pain goes away, almost all the anger and anger-driven hate will go with it.

Israelis will come to accept the non-Jews, the Palestinian Arabs, who now live in their country. And eventually, Palestinians will come to accept the Jews living in their country.

What about the issue of Jews immigrating to Palestine? Palestine presumably would be open to settlement by anyone, including Jews, as long as they live under Palestinian laws. Would they be treated the same as Israel treats its Arab citizens? Maybe that is why some Israelis fear living in Palestine.

Palestine, though, should not become Israel. It should not become a state based on one religion – Palestinians should repeal the law declaring Islam the official religion of Palestine. That law isolates non-Muslims and insults Christian Palestinians and Christians throughout the Arab world. (How could Palestinians complain about Israel being a Jewish state when Palestine would become a Muslim state?) Palestine can offer a right of return to every Palestinian in the diaspora, especially to those refugees living in camps.

Every Palestinian not living in Palestine or Israel is essentially a refugee in my mind. The success of assimilation does not deny refugee status.

It would be no different than what Israel does – allowing anyone Jewish to come to the State of Israel while requiring non-Jews to apply for immigration. Palestine could do the same.

One day, we will have peace. I just wonder how Palestinians and Israelis will spend their time when they don’t have to wake up in the morning and deal with all this conflict, fear, debate and anger?

The writer is an award winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Robert O'Connor and his 3 AM blog can shove it up his wazoo : )

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This blog author Robert O'Connor is way off base both in his ideas and his facts. (But he later contacted me and adjusted his comments and I have adjusted mine below.)

More than 7,000 people crammed the Petrillo Band Shell at Millennium Park for the Rally to Restore Sanity, organized by Angie McMahon. It was amazing how many people attended the event which featured an array and variety of entertainers, and a satellite feed from the the Washington D.C. parent rally organized by Jon Stewart which drew more than 215,000 people, far larger than the event organized by professional hater Glenn Beck.

O'Connor attacked me, mainly because he says I am Muslim. I'm not. I'm actually Christian Palestinian from Bethlehem and Jerusalem -- Jesus is my cousin O'Connor. But I don't mind being mistaken for a Muslim because it adds one more moderate voice to the growing voices of moderate Muslims standing up tot he fanatics who are trying to takeover the Middle East and attack America.

I was originally booked as a pro bono performer, which I was proud to accept and to perform. But the emcee, my comedy friend and long time media colleague Aaron Freeman had an emergency. So he asked me to finish off the show, which I enthusiastically did.

I introduced the lineup as they were booked by Angie McMahon and also did my our segment of comedy, which was tough to do since I had to emcee and then basically introduce myself. Which was okay, though.

My first few jokes in my set went over big.

"Anyone here expecting a UPS package from Yemen?"

Yes, I know the terrorist M-fers sent bombs using UPS to targets int he US, including American Jews -- my wife is an American Jew by the way. But to let the terrorists believe they have frightened us is wrong. And by making fun of their threats, we are demeaning the. Believe me. If it is one that the terrorist fanatics hate the most -- haters like Ikhras and KabobFest -- it is to be made fun of. They haaaaaate it! And they squirm like the worms they are.

And one of my lead jokes was to ask the audience if they wanted to say Rally to Restore Sanity in Arabic. And then I undulated loudly asking them to repeat it (luuuuuuu luuuuuu luuuuuu luuuuuu luuuuuuu!). And they undulated themselves and it was loudest undulation ever in Chicago and in Millennium Park. They laughed long and hard when it was done.

Of course, O'Connor did not. He was one of the 10 people who complained. Some were upset saying they came to Millennium Park not to show solidarity but to watch the jumbo-tron TV satellite feed from Washington D.C. If they wanted to watch TV -- selfishly, I might add -- they could have stayed home. Unless, of course, these goofs didn't have a TV set or watch cable.

The Rally to Restore Sanity sent a message out loud and clear that we will not tolerate fanaticism on either side and that we can find the middle ground. Tea Party activists are goofs from the far right, subversives trying to disrupt society and sanity.

-- Ray Hanania

(Updated Aug. 26, 2011 after Robert O'Connor insisted he was mis-characterized, is not a Tea Party member nor a supporter of Glenn Beck. He also edited his own criticism of me being Muslim.)

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Yalla Peace: Haneen Zoabi, Unfazed and unafraid

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Yalla Peace: Haneen Zoabi, Unfazed and unafraid

The case of Haneen Zoabi
exposes flaws in Israeli democracy.

Israel claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East, but sometimes it doesn’t really act like it. A case in point is the growing animosity in Israel toward Haneen Zoabi, an Arab member of Knesset from Balad who insists on testing Israel’s democracy.

Zoabi was among those on the Mavi Marmara – part of the flotilla which attempted to break the Gaza blockade in May. She is resolute in speaking about what she calls discriminatory policies against Arab citizens. I caught up with Zoabi during one of her stops in a tour of the US where she made the case that Israel talks the talk when it comes to democracy but fails to walk the walk.

“I am not afraid of what the Israelis are trying to do to me,” Zoabi told me at a Chicago convention of Palestinian Americans.

“The attacks by right-wing members of Knesset and politicians do not bother me. I am not afraid to stand up to them. I am strong.”

Zoabi is defiant, and her views can’t easily be brushed aside.

The first woman elected on an Arab slate to the Knesset in March 2009, and the third Arab woman elected to the Knesset altogether, Zoabi comes from a long line of Arab Israelis from Nazareth who have engaged in politics.

She is related to Seif el-Din e- Zoubi, a former mayor of Nazareth who served in the Knesset between 1949 and 1959, and from 1965 until 1979, and to Abed el-Aziz el-Zoubi, a deputy health minister and the first Arab member of an Israeli government.

But none of her relatives faced the anger and hostility that has been directed against her over the past year. Her support for the flotilla ignited a wave of harsh criticism. Jewish Knesset members have called for her to be prosecuted and stripped of the immunity that Knesset members enjoy.

Zoabi brushed aside the rising criticism as “a reflection of the new realities in Israel” that have pushed the Jewish state from the center to the extreme Right.

“Actually, this bothers the [Jewish] Israelis more than it bothers me. The criticism and anti-Arab hatred has become more severe, growing in intensity since the second intifada. It escalated even more after the Lebanon war,” Zoabi said.

She said the backlash against Arabs citizens challenging Israeli policies started with Azmi Bishara, a Knesset member who was very critical. Following the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Bishara was accused of high treason and charges were brought against him following allegations that he aided the enemy during wartime, was in contact with a foreign agent and involved in money-laundering activities. After being stripped of his immunity, Bishara fled Israel and resigned from the Knesset in 2007 via the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.

“The deterioration between Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis began with Bishara,” Zoabi said. “But it has reached a tipping point.”

CRITICISM IS a hallmark of true democracies.

The more Israel tries to silence Arab critics, the more it exposes the limits of its democracy.

“Israelis have always been racist against Arab citizens. It is growing,” Zoabi argued. “But I don’t see that as a threat to me as a Palestinian. It is a threat to the normalcy of life of the Israelis themselves. At one time, the racism was rational, a part of the Jewish character of the state. Today, that racism is more and more irrational.”

The only satisfaction that Israelis might get from all this is that Arabs in America are politically dysfunctional.

Although they can draw large crowds to conferences marked by angry speeches, like the one held in a suburb of Chicago this past weekend, the events get little or no coverage in the mainstream media. Americans are not hearing Palestinian complaints. Yet.

Palestinians in America do most of their talking to themselves. But one day that will change and Americans will look more closely at Israel’s policies toward its Arab citizens. Zoabi symbolizes a crack that continues to grow in the wall of Israel’s claim to the “only democracy in the Middle East.”

The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Yalla Peace: Racism is in the eye of the beholder

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Yalla Peace: Racism is in the eye of the beholder
(Creators Syndicate)

Juan Williams and the fear of flying 
with those dressed in Muslim garb.

Juan Williams, the well-known NPR radio and TV commentator, recently told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly that he gets nervous boarding planes when he sees people in “Muslim garb.” Williams said the fear stems from the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 when 19 Muslim Arabs hijacked four planes and crashed three of them into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

But there is much wrong with what Williams said, beyond his prejudiced fears.

I’ve been to many clothing stores, including many at the world’s largest mall, the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai. When I ask for the Muslim garb section, they look at me strangely. They don’t have a Muslim garb section.

I was more disappointed in Williams because he is African-American, although his first name is Hispanic.

When I was growing up in America in the 1960s, most white people used to say that they feared going into black neighborhoods because, well, you know, blacks spend all their time murdering people to pay for their drug habits.

It was this kind of racist stereotype that roused fear in the minds of most Americans and resulted in racial clashes and conflict for years, forcing the government to adopt civil rights legislation. That legislation which protects black Americans today helped Williams make millions as a media superstar.

Williams knew he was walking into bad territory when he said it, and tried to soften the blow, adding that of course everyone in America has rights, including those Arabs and Muslims in their Muslim garb.

But it doesn’t cut it.

Williams was fired by NPR, although it appears that his racist comment wasn’t the main reason. NPR, a liberal media institution, is upset because Williams appeared on a competing network.

Many Americans are upset that Williams was fired for making these comments. They were not upset when allegations of racism, prejudice and inappropriateness were directed against people like Helen Thomas, Octavia Nasr and Rick Sanchez. All three were fired because they made comments critical of Israel, or that Israelis and American Jews were not happy with.

There is a campaign in the US now to boycott NPR for firing Williams, because, well, most Americans don’t care when you are racist against Arabs or Muslims.

I GUESS racism in America is a lot like beauty; it’s all in the eye of the beholder. It’s racist to criticize Israel or express sadness at the death of a Muslim leader, but not racist to criticize Arabs and Muslims who terrorize America in Muslim garb.

The only problem in all this is that I saw the pictures of the 19 hijackers – crazed fanatics who claimed their actions were done in the name of Islam. Who appointed them as spokespeople for Islam? I don’t know, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

Yet I don’t think they were dressed in Muslim garb at all. In fact, if I remember correctly, most were wearing blue jeans. One had a cardigan college sweater. Another few had two-piece pinstripe suits, the kind you find on the nefarious characters in the banking industry who rip Americans off by charging excessive interest rates on credit cards, or their robber baron cousins in the insurance industry, who do the same.

I’ll remember to shiver the next time I am boarding a plane and see someone next to me wearing a college cheerleader’s outfit.

Oh, those people in their Western garb. They can be so frightening sometimes.

The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Juan Williams and the slew of fired journalists

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Juan Williams and the slew of fired journalists
By Ray Hanania

Should Juan Williams have been fired for expressing an opinion tinged with racism?

I don’t think so. Not that I support racist views. But I do believe strongly in freedom of speech and the tolerance of even the most ugly of comments.

Juan Williams, a conservative commentator who had the distinction of working for the liberal NPR Radio and the conservative FOX Network, said that he would feel uncomfortable if he were to board an airplane and see other passengers were dressed like Muslims or Arabs.

The comment reminds me of the racism that was common during most of the last century in America, when Whites would express fears of Blacks on buses, in their neighborhoods and in their stores.

It is racism. But how do you respond to racism?

Williams is not a journalist so the issue of violating journalist ethics does not apply. He is a commentator, someone who is paid specifically for expressing his opinion.

Although his opinion reflected an ugliness that is common against Muslims and Arabs that was once commonplace bigotry against African Americans, I don’t believe he should have been fired. Just as I don’t believe Helen Thomas, Octavia Nasr and Rick Sanchez should have been fired, either.

Thomas was more of a journalist than a commentator, but her comments were made off-the-cuff after she was ambushed by a virulently anti-Arab Rabbi who then twisted her words from criticism of Israel into anti-Semitism. She was fired by her newspaper chain, the Hearts Publications.

Octavia Nasr was a popular anchor and reporter at CNN. Her Middle Eastern background added a knowledge that was not available from others at CNN or elsewhere, since there are so very few American Arabs working in the mainstream American news media.

She expressed empathy on the death of Sheikh Sayyed Mohammad Fadlallah, a man who was considered the founder of Hezbollah, even though he had distanced himself from Hezbollah which has changed dramatically from a grassroots resistance movement to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon to a powerful militant organization and political group that is believed to be behind much of the Islamic extremism in the Middle East.

Rick Sanchez seemed to have been making a joke made by others, saying that the idea that Jews are an oppressed minority is ridiculous, responding to comments made by television commentator and entertainer Jon Stewart, who is Jewish.

There is a difference between journalism and commentary. I’m a columnist, not a journalist any more, though I was a journalist winning many awards for more than two decades.

But there is also a difference between responsible commentary and opinion, and irresponsible racism and bigotry.

Should a columnist be fired for expressing an unpopular view that many might consider racist? If he should be, then where do we draw a line so that it applies equally to everyone.

Because Juan Williams isn’t the only commentator or journalist to express anti-Muslim and anti-Arab views in the mainstream American news media. If we fired all those that crossed this line, we might not have many commentators left.

Of course, that circumstance might make this a better world. But then, that is just my opinion.

(Ray Hanania can be reached at Please contact Creators Syndicate to publish any columns)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Yalla Peace: Israel - Lonely, oh so (increasingly) lonely

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Yalla Peace: Israel - Lonely, oh so (increasingly) lonely

Israel’s standing in int'l community continues to falter
as country becomes more isolated. But things could easily change
with help of its only real reliable ally, the US.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s refusal to freeze settlement expansion during the direct peace talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reinforced a reversal of Israel’s relations with many countries in the Middle East.

As long as it insists on placing its desire to hold onto lands that would become part of a future Palestinian state above reaching a permanent peace accord, that reversal will grow.

This week, Moroccan King Muhammad VI reportedly declined to meet with President Shimon Peres, writing in his letter to him that such a meeting was “impossible at the moment.”

The Arab League is backing Abbas’s refusal to sit down with Netanyahu as long as he continues to authorize settlement construction on lands that would presumably be exchanged for a secure Israeli future.

Relations between the Arab world and Israel are getting chillier by the moment and Turkey, once a close ally, continues to distance itself. Britain and Spain recently announced that they will not send representatives to the OECD conference in Jerusalem later this week, though the UK denied that this was a boycott. Norway last month divested from Elbit because of its reported ties to the security barrier in the West Bank. Singers and artists are canceling their scheduled performances and trips, the most recent incident involving British director Mike Leigh.

When Arab states boycotted Israel after the Six Day War, it had far many more friends in the world. Today, Israel’s standing in the international community continues to falter and the country is becoming increasingly isolated.

But things could easily change with its only real reliable ally, the US.

PRESIDENT BARACK Obama is a weak president these days, not because of his insistence on pushing for compromise in the Middle East, but because of continued economic challenges in the US.

Obama’s Democratic Party is expected to lose control of Congress in the November 2 general elections, but traditionally a president’s party almost always loses control of the Congress in midterm elections. It has happened to his predecessors, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Losing that control doesn’t mean that Obama will not be reelected in November 2012. The man is different from his predecessors in many ways, including his insistence on tackling the Middle East conflict as soon as he came into office. His predecessors usually took on this task toward the end of their terms, never giving themselves enough time.

If Obama is elected a second time, he would be in a far different position politically and not subject to the pressures of Israel’s political climate. He will have another four years to reposition the Palestinian question in a new way that could change how Americans view the conflict.

Americans today generally support Israel but more and more are seeing the imbalance for what it really is and are showing sympathies to the Palestinians. The only thing stopping Americans from making a full conversion are the Arab fanatics and extremist activists.

These extremist activists’ policies make it easy for Americans to support Israel. Their street protests and their virulent anti-Semitism have strengthened Israel’s standing, and their failure to achieve any swing in American votes only pushes them to bully their community and to target moderate voices.

They won’t change the political dynamics in the US, but Israel’s obstinate refusal to give up lands designated for a future Palestinian state alongside it is becoming increasingly clear to many Americans. It’s not significant now, but it will be if Obama is sworn in for a second term.

Things are changing and some Israelis either don’t see it or have buried their heads so deep in the sand, they can’t see it. They have allowed their own extremist voices to take over their country and reject a way for peace that the country’s founders had always claimed was their goal.

Israel is becoming a nation from which many of its international allies are finding it easier to walk away.

Ending settlement expansion is a simple choice, one that would lead to permanent peace. Israel must decide, once and for all, between building on more land and taking its place among the countries of the Middle East, countries that would include a sovereign and free Palestine.

It cannot have both.

The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Yalla Peace: Illinois and the peace process

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Yalla Peace: Illinois and the peace process

Illinois could become the leading state in helping resolve the Middle East conflict.

Rahm Emanuel is the most famous of US political candidates with direct ties to Israel. The former chief of staff to President Barack Obama left the job and declared his candidacy for mayor of Chicago. His father, Benjamin, was a member of the pre-state Irgun.

But he’s not the only one.

Scott Lee Cohen is Jewish, but few know his father was born in Palestine during the British Mandate and immigrated to the US to escape the growing conflict. His son was born two years before the 1967 war. Cohen broke onto the American political scene last March with a huge splash when he surprised everyone and won the Democratic Party nomination for Illinois lieutenant governor.

But Cohen was already accomplished in business in Chicagoland. He is a self-made millionaire.

The mainstream media ignored Cohen during the election, focusing instead on the leading establishment candidates after the governor, Rod Blagojevich, had been removed from office and accused of corruption.

Blagojevich beat all 23 major corruption charges, but the former governor’s ties to high-profile American Arab businessmen made him a marked man to the media.

Cohen ran on a reform platform that promised to focus on job creation. When he won the election, the media turned ugly and began doing the job they failed to do when he ran, digging up dirt including details of his divorce and the antics of a former girlfriend whom the media charged had been arrested previously for prostitution.

Cohen stood up to the oftenunfair media and political onslaught, which in turn, ignored him when he talked about doing something for citizens of the state, and then pilloried him when his election put him in line to become the state’s number-two government official.

Under pressure and threats, Cohen withdrew from the lieutenant governor’s race, but returned and declared himself a an independent candidate.

“I am very proud of my family’s heritage and my father’s life in Palestine, and I am proud to be a Jew,” Cohen told me after appearing on my morning radio show in Chicago. Cohen said he opposes violence, supports negotiations and the creation of two states as a solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict.

If he is elected governor, Cohen could become a prominent force to help strengthen the moderate voices, and will be a contrast to Emanuel, who has been secretive about his own ties to Israel.

Service in Israel’s military is considered one of the highest honors and is respected among Israelis. It’s often used to help deflect some of the nasty vitriol that dominates the Middle East discussion. My journalism colleague, Bradley Burston, notes at the bottom of his columns in Haaretz that he served in the IDF to deflect attacks from those who question his patriotism.

But just as military service is important in Israel, it is also very important in the US. Like Burston, I often cite my active duty in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War to respond to those who question my patriotism.

It’s the main factor in the Illinois US Senate race with Democrat Alexi Giannoulis leading his Republican rival Mark Kirk, who has repeatedly exaggerated his own role as a “fighter pilot” in Iraq.

And it is important in the case of Rahm Emanuel.

Emanuel served as a “volunteer” in Israel’s military, repairing trucks, but he has refused to discuss the facts surrounding that role, or explain why he didn’t serve in the US military.

THE MEDIA that beat up Cohen is touting Emanuel as the leading candidate to become Chicago mayor. He is one of the smartest minds in American politics, and was the architect of the Democratic takeover of the US House.

Emanuel’s role as chief adviser to Obama shows he cares about supporting genuine peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

But it has caused him some problems with Chicago Jews, who feel Obama has been too supportive of Palestinians.

I think Emanuel would make a great mayor. His service in the Israeli military is not an issue to me. His role in the Obama administration, which is fair to Israelis and Palestinians, is more important.

I also think Cohen will make a great Illinois governor.

If they both win, Illinois could become the leading state in helping resolve the Middle East conflict. It’s a state with just as many Arabs and Muslims as Jews, who all care about achieving peace.

The writer is an award winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Yalla peace: No deals with the devil

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Yalla peace: No deals with the devil

Like the proverbial pact with the Germans during the British Mandate and Saddam Hussein inthe 1990s, cheering Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not help the Palestinian cause.

‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend” is described both as a Chinese and an Arabic proverb that is used to explain how someone can make a pact with the devil if it helps their cause. Sometimes called “the devil’s pact,” it’s not a good policy, even if it does have historical weight in the Middle East.

One of the first such pacts was made by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Jerusalem mufti during the Palestine Mandate who reached out to the Germans during World War II. The Germans were railing against international Zionism, although no one yet knew the extent of the Nazi horrors.

It was a pact of convenience, not hatred, often used to wrongly demonize all Palestinians.

Like the US, Palestinians also made a pact with Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s tyrant who was finally toppled and replaced by a new tyrant, Halliburton.

Saddam began as a client of the US in his decades-long war with Iran.

Of course, the US had a stronger pact with Iran’s pre-ayatollah tyrant, the shah of Iran, whose government murdered hundreds of thousands of dissidents.

Palestinians turned to Saddam when the Iraqi dictator, seeking to exploit their suffering for his own political benefit, gave the families of suicide bombers money; Israel’s policy of collective punishment violated international laws and punished innocent people for the crimes of others.

Although the gesture was good, the source and motive were corrupt.

NOW, MANY Palestinians are turning to the strident fanaticism of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the “president” of Iran. Like Saddam, Ahmadinejad uses the suffering of the Palestinian people to tug at the heartstrings of the pro-Palestinian movement. It is a pact with the devil that Palestinians should avoid. But in a world where support from major powers is weak, Ahmadinejad’s abrasive assaults against Israel have attracted many admirers.

But Ahmadinejad is a demagogue.

After making his outrageous claims at the UN that the US was somehow involved in the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, a group of activists – mostly extremists but including some Palestinians – met with Ahmadinejad. They praised the Iranian tyrant and he praised them. I am sure they left the meeting agreeing that his voice can help pull the veil from Israel’s brutal occupation – a veil that is wrapped tightly around the eyes of most Americans.

But like the proverbial pact with the Germans and Saddam, cheering Ahmadinejad does not help the Palestinian cause. In fact, it harms it.

The Palestinians do not need to cuddle up to tyrants to find friends; they have a just cause as they challenge Israel’s policies. The issue of settlements is not one of family growth, as Israel contends, but rather one of land theft – theft that is a counterweight to the fight against terrorism.

When Israel doesn’t follow through on its often-empty peace promises, some activists see the devil’s pact as an attractive option.

Palestinians should purge the Arabic proverbs that have helped bring down Palestinian aspirations for statehood. They should slam the door on Ahmadinejad’s hypocrisies, and challenge his own oppressive tyranny. Having principles means that when you criticize one enemy, you never embrace the devil. Principle means that when you stand up for justice in the cause of Palestine, you stand up for justice in the cause of those persecuted by Iran, such as the hikers who have been jailed for more than a year, or the hundreds of political activists who speak out against its vicious policies.

Having principles means that when a Palestinian kills an Israeli, you speak out as forcefully as you would when an Israeli kills a Palestinian.

Sure, Israelis could use these words of advice too. After all, they have stolen Palestine’s felafels and the Arabic proverbs too, making their own pacts with the devil.

But you don’t do your justice any justice if you defend your wrongs by saying the other side does it too, or by accepting the canard that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Ahmadinejad is not our friend.

The writer is an award winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Yalla Peace: Palestinians have already recognized Israel

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Yalla Peace: Palestinians have already recognized Israel
By Ray Hanania
09/14/2010 Jerusalem Post

The acceptance of this country is not only inherent in the Palestinians’ repeated declarations but also in the fact that their leaders are sitting down and negotiating two states.
In the reality of the Palestine-Israel conflict, the field where peace is played is the United States. That “stadium,” if you look at this like a sport, is the home field for the Israelis.

They have many advantages, including the support of the mainstream American media and an American public that still views the Leon Uris book Exodus as the bible of Middle East history.

I don’t want to burn that bible, but I think it is important to weigh both sides and what they are really saying, to look past the rhetoric and analyze what is really being sought.

Both sides want peace. Even the fanatics want peace. They just want it at the end of a war with their opponents vanquished.

Real peace means balance, and balance has never been a major component of the ongoing negotiations that began in 1993 in – to use a sports analogy again – the White House Stadium.

LET’S LOOK at some key issues.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is making his case that Israel needs to end settlement expansion and address the core issues. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is responding with the assertion that settlement expansion is not the key issue here.

Rather it’s Palestinian violence (Israel’s security) and the acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state – a new precondition that has risen from the stalemate of years of failed negotiations.

According to Netanyahu, equilibrium does not exist between Palestinian demands on settlements and Israeli demands on security and defined recognition.

But that equilibrium does exist and Netanyahu can’t simply brush it aside.

To the Palestinians, the issue has never been rejecting Israel’s right to exist but rather Israel’s imposed right to grab any land it wants.

To Israel, the issue is security and being recognized as a “Jewish state.”

The fact is Palestinians have recognized Israel’s right to exist. That is not only inherent in their repeated declarations but also in the fact that Palestinians are sitting down and negotiating two states.

Despite that, though, Netanyahu has asserted that the Palestinians have not compromised and they do not recognize Israel’s right to exist, with the new caveat of being a “Jewish state,” and he has insisted that Israel, and he personally, have recognized the rights of Palestinians.

What rights are those Mr. Netanyahu? If Israelis can’t recognize that Palestinians have land rights, then what rights are they offering in exchange for a cessation of violence to reinforce security for Israel? What is Israel going to give the Palestinians in exchange for bringing this conflict to a final resolution? Ironically, the extremist movements of both the Israelis and Palestinians are being fed by Israel’s rightwing rhetoric. Many Israelis do not recognize the West Bank as the West Bank at all and in fact refer to the area as “Judea and Samaria.” It is an offensive term that is the equivalent to “Zionist state” used by many Palestinians who refer to the 1948 lands that were occupied by Israel.

Additionally, the right-wing Israeli sentiment is clear. They argue that the Palestinians, and Arabs, lost repeated wars and therefore also lost their right to claim ownership of the lands taken in those wars.

That is exactly the fuel that feeds the growing extremist movement. Because what Israelis are really saying to Palestinians is: “You only will get what we want to give you, and if you don’t like it tough luck.”

If Israelis really want peace, they need to drop the car dealership hustle and start speaking openly, candidly and compassionately about peace. Israel has the upper hand in this relationship. For now.

IF PEACE talks collapse, the Palestinian secular movement will eventually disappear and Israel will not only face the Hamas religious movement but the unbendable and uncompromising Islamic world, which increasingly is building its power and strength and would shift the balance in favor of a one-state solution.

The writer is an award winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Arabs, Muslims and Americans have too much in common

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Arabs, Muslims and Americans have too much in common
By Ray Hanania

What message should the Arab and Muslim World get from the recent declaration by an obscure and angry Florida priest who announced plans to burn a Quran (Koran), the Islamic Holy Book?

That message is clear. The threat to burn the Islamic equivalent of the Bible is offensive to most Americans.

But that’s not what Arabs and Muslims will hear. The fact that leaders from across America and even across the political spectrum have uniformly denounced the Rev. Terry Jones, pastor of the 50-member Dove World Outreach Center, will not off-set the mounting anger in the Arab and Muslim World.

They won’t understand that just because some fanatic in America says something stupid and racist, doesn’t mean that Americans endorse it.

They also won’t understand that fine point because Americans are not really much different from them. When Osama Bin Laden’s disciples crashed their hijacked planes in to the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001, Americans were quick to blame all Muslims.

The anger was deep. America as a nation spoke from both sides of their mouth saying they support religious freedom and oppose censorship, but they also view Arabs and Muslims as a monolithic group. That’s why recently most Americans are on record saying they oppose plans by Muslims to renovate a building blocks from Ground Zero that includes space where Muslims can worship and pray, even though they feel Muslims have a right to do so.

Can you blame the Arab and Muslim World for being angry, or maybe confused about Americans? Can you blame Americans for being confused about Muslims?

Americans might argue that Arabs and Muslims live in worlds oppressed by dictatorships, places where free speech is practically non-existent. They might point out that the offenses that Arabs and Muslims complain about here in the United States take place every day in the Arab and Muslim World. The oppression of a minority religion is more pronounced in the Arab and Muslim World than it is in the United States. Muslims can go door to door and give away free Qurans and try to convert Christians to Islam, but Christians who try that in the Islamic World could and do get killed.

But Arabs and Muslims might counter to Americans, though, that the free speech America brags about is really not so free at all. Free speech is severely restricted in America for minority groups like Arabs and Muslims. Bigotry is on the rise in America, too. There is a glass wall that prevents Arabs and Muslims, for example, from entering many of the nation’s greatest professions such as the mainstream news media.

Let me just correct my readers here who will counter my claim by pointing to Fareed Zakaria and tell me (for the millionth time) “Fareed Zakaria is an Arab who has risen to the highest ranks of American journalism.”

Fareed Zakaria is NOT and Arab. He is an Indian Muslim and that is where a major part of the problem rests. Muslims and Arabs are different. There are 4.5 million Arabs in America and only 45 percent of them are actually Muslim. And there are 7 million Muslims in America and only 22 percent of them are Arab.

We don’t really know the precise count because the U.S. Census refuses to include "Arab" as a category on forms. Census forms do list 29 other ethnic and racial groups that include three listings for African Americans, five for Hispanics, and many for Native Americans and Asians, too.

In fact, in the this 9th year debate about the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, there will be much focus on “Muslims” and very little focus on “Arabs.”

Many Americans tell me often how much they hate me, not because I am Arab but because they think I am Muslim. The fact that I am Orthodox Christian raised Lutheran doesn’t seem to matter. That President Barack Obama is not Muslim doesn’t seem to bother the 22 percent of Americans who think he is a Muslim and the 46 percent of Americans who say they don’t know what he is. (I always say Americans are the most educated people in the world but the least educated about the world.)

I remember one woman after Sept. 11 coming up to me and saying "I can't believe you abandoned your Christian faith to become an Arab."

Arabs and Muslims are not much different either. The fact that I am a Palestinian born in America who speaks English and only a little Arabic is a cause of great alarm for Arabs and Muslims who use that to discriminate against me and others like me. They find the fact that my first language is not Arabic offensive and write some of the most ignorant and racist comments, worse than those written against Arabs and Muslims by the extremist rightwing in this country.

Americans who defend Jones claim that Muslims burn Bibles, too. I don’t recall any such incidents. But, is claiming that someone else does bad things a good defense for a bad thing you are doing?

What the Arab and Muslim World should recognize is that America is no different than they are. Both suffer censorship issues of different sorts. Both experience racism and bigotry. Both are confused about simple topics. And both sides have extremists who spew venomous hatred and use violence to achieve political goals.

Somewhere in the Arab and Muslim World is an Arab Muslim version of Terry Jones who is doing the exact same thing without much fanfare.

I don’t expect either side to recognize these facts. But it is something we can hope for.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American columnist and Chicago Radio Talk Show host. He can be reached at

Sept. 11th ambulance chasers

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Sept. 11th ambulance chasers
By Ray Hanania

Each year that passes, activists on both sides of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist assault try to outdo each other and themselves from the past years in over analyzing the crime.

This year, another “Christian” leader in Florida has declared his plans to burn a copy of the Quran (Koran), the Muslim equivalent of the Bible to commemorate the 9th anniversary.

The Rev. Terry Jones, a name that meant nothing before but now symbolizes the nation’s growing intolerance and hatred, says he is doing it because Islam is an “Evil Religion.” I guess in Jones’ favor is the fact that in order to really know evil, you have to be even more evil.

The tragedy chasers, a term sometimes used in journalism to refer to people who grab their 15 minutes of fame by glomming on to high profile tragedies, have found a new life in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. Whether the threat of terrorism and the conflicts that are exploited to justify them are resolved or not does not matter to these opportunists.

Like sleazy ambulance chaser lawyers, they have one motive, personal profit. First in notoriety and fame – because there are so many it seems in America clamoring to be fed anti-Islamic hatred – and because their new found fame based on fanning the flames of hatred can elevate them to heights of power.

On the other side are the people like Fareed Zakaria. People always protest when I complain that there is a bias in the American mainstream news media, especially after Sept. 11,  because so few Arabs are allowed to engage the discourse to help Americans understand the challenges of the post Sept. 11 conflict. Without missing a beat, they all say, Well, there is Fareed Zakaria. He’s an Arab.

No. Fareed Zakaria is not an Arab at all. He is an Indian American activist little known before Sept. 11, 2001 but now the journalism face of everything Arab, Islamic and Middle Eastern.

This week he wrote -- wait and drum roll -- Americans “overreacted” to Sept. 11, a ridiculous claim in the face of the fact that nearly 3,000 people died in one event at an icon of American Democracy.

Zakaria, who knows little about the Arab World, does understand journalism and the narrow American mindset. And, he needs to justify his new position with a provocative claim having moved just weeks ago from his perch at Newsweek to Time Magazine.

Honestly, I am tired of the Sept. 11 ambulance chasers. They are people who claim to know so much but really know so little. Sept. 11 is a major catastrophe in American history, a tragedy of immense proportions. No burning of a book or overwritten essay in a national magazine is going to explain the meaning behind it.

We don’t really know if Jones is going to be burning a real Quran or a copy of it, or even more likely a copy of a book he might take off of his library shelf, like Mein Kampf. It won’t matter, though. What he says means more than the reality. His symbolism of hatred is enough to energize both friend and foes.

And, what is being asserted goes far beyond the accuracy of that tragic day when two planes crashed into the sides of two of America’s most important buildings at the World Trade Center.

The terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001, not the date itself, has come to redefine the conflict and challenges Americans face. What was once a solvable secular conflict in the Middle East has instead been grown to become the symbol of the insoluble clash of religious titans. Christianity and Islam.

That must come as a relief to the Jews, though. For generations, Christian fanatics, evangelists and Bible thumpers pointed accusatory fingers at the Jewish people for the murder of Jesus Christ, fueling an anti-Semitism that remains today but is veiled beneath a newer and more sinister form of bigotry against people who “look” Muslim or Arab.

I’m not trying to pick on Zakaria who has pushed himself to the front of the line. He is a good writer, and is no Terry Jones. And, he is certainly unlike Jones’ mentors who include media screamers Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter. These screamers are carrying the torch of hatred. But his analysis is ridiculous and is leading the world away from one simple truth. No one overreacted. Americans reacted properly but allowed themselves to be led to the bonfire of the insanities for solutions.

Osama Bin Laden was no Muslim scholar. He was a spoiled rich brat with a long and stupid looking beard who with no worries in the world got involved in one of the world’s great conflicts in Afghanistan using Daddy’s Money.

Afghanistan was fun and it gave the spoiled brat something to do, other than go into the family’s profitable but boring construction business, a business that is booming, by the way, even more today than before. No pun intended.

He represented no one but himself. His al-Qaeda gang of privileged and moneyed thugs had only one talent, the ability to take the frustrations of the simpleminded and convince them to sacrifice their lives for some future that had too many adjectives.

Bin Laden is a new kind street gang leader on steroids with money and an Internet that gives him a worldwide stage for communications.

They built an army of perception that has become reality not because of their leadership, but because of the reactions of people like Jones on one side and Zakaria on the other. People who little about the causes of the conflicts that made it so easy for common street gang leaders like Bin Laden to take center stage with acts of violence noteworthy for the size of the number of fatalities.

When you recognize the real threat we face as Americans, it is easy to understand that the threat is not Islam at all, but a handful of miscreants – the word villain is even too kind.

Burning a copy of the Quran or over-interpreting its words won’t help anyone understand how to protect this country from a future act of terrorism.

But it sure will get a lot of publicity.

Personally, maybe Jones should burn some commentaries by Zakaria. And while he’s at it, he should throw in a few commentaries from Hannity, Beck, Coulter and a few more.

That would be worth celebrating.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American columnist and Chicago Radio Talk Show host. He can be reached at