Some Questions for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

Irfan Khawaja

In November 2002, the scholar Daniel Pipes broke a story in the New York Post to the effect that the Arab Voice, an Arabic-language newspaper based in Paterson, N.J., had been serializing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious anti-Semitic forgery. I won’t recapitulate the details of the controversy here; interested readers may find it discussed at Pipes’s website at the URL listed at the end of this article. In the course of that controversy, I wrote two essays, one for the Herald News (of Paterson, NJ; Nov. 25, 2002) and the other for Pakistan Today (Jan. 13, 2003), denouncing the Arab Voice for having serialized the Protocols, and for its evasive comportment during the controversy itself. Interested readers may find those URLs at the bottom as well. 

One curious feature of the controversy was a comment by Hussein Ibish, Communications Director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). Asked about the serialization by a reporter from the Jewish Standard of Teaneck N.J., Mr. Ibish was quoted as follows (see Amy Sara Clark, “Publisher won’t back down on Protocols,” Nov. 15, 2002):

“Hussein Ibish, communications director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination committee, said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., on Monday that he did not know whether the Arab Voice was printing the Protocols, but ‘if it's true and if they didn't do it with a standard disclaimer, that would be very wrong and very unfortunate.’”

Hard to argue with that, isn’t it? 

Previously, in a discussion on the TV show “Crossfire,” Mr. Ibish had made a firm verbal commitment to the rejection of anti-Semitism in a debate with Joe Glover of the Family Policy Network, a Christian fundamentalist organization (August 13, 2002): 

IBISH: We don't spend time looking at what bad people have done in the name of Christianity...
TUCKER CARLSON: The Holocaust was not done in the name of Christianity.
IBISH: You're quite wrong about that. The anti-Semitism that informed the Holocaust is deeply rooted in centuries of intolerant Christian
theology...
JOE GLOVER: Oh, I'm sure you're worried about anti-Semitism, Hussein.
IBISH: Of course I am. Because I'm not a racist like you. 

You have to be pretty confident of yourself to throw in-your-face accusations about “racism” around like that. Given Mr. Ibish’s tough-guy rhetoric, I am curious to know what he thinks about the following item, published in Paterson’s Herald News (May 6, 2003), entitled “Expanding Arab Voice Rings Out,” and reprinted with great joy on the website of the New Jersey branch of Mr. Ibish’s own institution: 

“PATERSON - After 12 years of slow expansion, The Arab Voice newspaper has
plans to double its circulation in the next few weeks to 40,000, upping the
number of states where the paper is distributed from 12 to 32. …”  

Quoting Walid Rabah, the editor of the Arab Voice, the article continues:  

"Where we found Arabs, we're sending the newspaper there," said Rabah.
Besides offering an Arab-American perspective on the news, he sees value in
printing the paper in Arabic. "Most of the Arabs here ... want to keep their
Arabic language. We need the newspaper to keep the language for the younger
generation," he said.  

Circulation will jump immediately when the paper opens an office in
Dearborn, Mich. Rabah said he is a week or two from closing a deal on an
office, which will be run by one additional staffer. The paper, which now
runs about 35 pages an issue, will also be expanded to include some 15
additional pages focused on news from Chicago, Dearborn and Southern and
Western states. …  

"I write whatever I want. Nobody ever says anything. We write against the war, the U.S. government, the American media, but nobody ever asks us (about it.) That's why I'm a very good American citizen," he said.  

So the Arab Voice, having done something “very wrong and very unfortunate” is now to be rewarded for having done so, both by the ADC-NJ and by the Arab/Muslim community at large. And let’s not try to pretend that the ADC-NJ’s showcasing of this article is “neutral.” The article is obviously being displayed on the ADC-NJ’s website to promote ethnic pride in the success of the Arab Voice, not to make it an object of criticism. If they had wanted to criticize the paper, they would have done so. They haven’t. And if anti-Semitism were really a “fringe phenomenon” in the Arab/Muslim community, as people like Sarah El-Tantawy (of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee) so aggressively assert, why is it so profligately rewarded? Is it that Arabs and Muslims know the Arab Voice’s reputation and don’t care, or is it that our hapless brethren don’t know what it is that they’re supporting? If they know and don’t care, it’s pretty obvious that they’re culpable—and if they really are ignorant, the Arab/Muslim community has a pretty serious communications problem, one that the ADC is doing nothing to remedy. In neither case is there a problem only at the “fringes.”   

As a person of Muslim upbringing who has fought anti-Semitism without the benefit of a huge institution or fund-raising apparatus like that at Mr. Ibish’s disposal, the ADC-NJ’s showcasing of the article about the Arab Voice prompts some obvious questions. Does Hussein Ibish regard the actions of ADC-NJ as “very wrong and very unfortunate”? Is he “worried” enough about anti-Semitism among Arabs and Muslims to do anything about the actions of his colleagues in New Jersey? And Mr. Ibish aside, where does the national organization of the ADC stand on this issue?  

I ask these questions because, in all sincerity, I am truly interested in the answers, and have something of a stake in them. For twenty years, I have been hearing Arab and Muslim leaders tell me that anyone who discerns anti-Semitism in the Arab/Muslim community and has the audacity to talk about it is blind, deluded, or in the pay of Zionist taskmasters. I’ve also heard my fair share of pious lectures from Arab/Muslim intellectuals to the effect that Arabs and Muslims are simply immune to the virus of anti-Semitism, that it only infects Westerners, and that merely to raise the issue is to give the Israelis “a blank check” to lord it over the Palestinians. Memo to the powers that be: the act is wearing thin. No one believes it anymore, least of all your prime-time audience. When it comes to anti-Semitism, the Quran has it right: the prevailing attitude is best described as ‘sumun, buqmun, umyun, fahum la yar’giun’—self-induced deafness, dumbness and blindness that refuses to see the light. To paraphrase Goethe: could we have some more light, please?  

So far, Mr. Rabah has been absolutely right: “nobody” has said very much in criticism of him, at least within his own community. Will that continue? Must it? Mr. Ibish has proven himself a loud and assertive opponent of anti-Semitism, at least when it comes to polemical confrontations in front of captive audiences, or when he’s put on the spot, or when the practitioners are European Christians. I’m interested to know how powerful his commitment is to the relevant principle outside of that context. The ball is in his court, and the ADC’s. I’d be more gratified than anyone to see them hit it.  

References:

Daniel Pipes on the Protocols controversy (New York Post, November 5, 2002): http://www.danielpipes.org/article/499; see also “follow up” material near the bottom, which contains Ibish’s first quotation above, in Amy Sara Clark, “Publisher won’t back down on Protocols,” Jewish Standard, Nov. 15, 2002.   

Irfan Khawaja on the Protocols controversy (Paterson Herald News, Nov. 25. 2002; Pakistan Today, Jan. 13, 2003): http://www.secularislam.org/articles/protocols.htm, http://www.secularislam.org/articles/khawaja3.htm).  

Hussein Ibish on CNN’s “Crossfire” (August 13, 2002): http://www.adc.org/index.php?id=490&no_cache=1&sword_list[]=Semitism.  

Suzanne Travers, “Expanding Arab Voice Rings Out” (Paterson Herald News, May 6, 2003, reprinted on ADC-NJ website): http://www.adcnj.us/expanding_arab_voice_rings_out_t.htm.  

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Irfan Khawaja is adjunct instructor in philosophy at The College of New Jersey, and lecturer in politics at Princeton University.