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The "Peace" Movement's Radical Arab-Americans By: Jacob Laksin
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Their politics may be miles from the mainstream and their placards may bear Bush-bashing slogans that would make Ted Kennedy blush. But most of the groups protesting the recent Republican National Convention take pride in their pariah status. Like the radical group United for Peace and Justice, they eagerly broadcast their intention to “Say No To The Bush Agenda!” One organization, however, has maintained a low profile: The National Council of Arab Americans (NCA).

Officially, the Davis, California-based NCA is a consortium of grassroots groups “that seeks to serve the Arab American community in various forms.” Those forms, according to the group, include “need-based, legal defense, educational, advocacy, and grassroots empowerment on the basis of full constitutional belonging.” But if that sounds somewhat vague, it is clearly by intent.

What the NCA is reluctant to reveal is that it is not simply a lobbying group for the Arab-American community. In fact, the NCA is the organizational arm of an extremist movement that purports to fight discrimination against American Arabs and Muslims while masking the true targets of its disdain: the United States and Israel.


Though the NCA does not have an official website, a suspicious fact in itself, the group’s 2003 antiwar manifesto affords an instructive look into its motivations. In it, the NCA calls for an immediate end of war in Iraq, and demands the suspension of all forms of economic, political, and military support for Israel. (Palestinians, on the other hand, are to be granted a full right of return without further ado.) The NCA then insists for an end to what it calls the “collective criminalization of Arab Americans and Muslims.” Lastly, there is jab at the real culprit. The United States must renounce its “militarism and colonial expansions.”


Even as it raises the specter of an “American empire,” however, the NCA betrays the true source of its resistance to the war: its contempt for Western civilization. Far more dangerous to Iraqis than Saddam Hussein or the Baathist regime, according to the group’s 2003 proclamation, is the presence of Western nations in the Middle East. Indeed, the very notion that Western nation’s may have any right to intervene in the Middle East is anathema to the NCA. Fumed one NCA missive prior to the war, “Regardless of the source, the notion that the people of Iraq ‘need some form of Western intervention,’ even if temporary, to secure their very own stability is overtly racist and a real threat to civilization.”


How such defenses of dictatorship square with the NCA’s self-declared role as a watchdog of Arab and Muslim civil rights is not explained. What the group lacks in clarity, however, it compensates for in conviction, as it is apparent that one of the NCA’s animating principles is its hostility to Israel.


Since its November, 2003, founding, the NCA has allied itself with a coalition of far-left groups, known as International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), to campaign against the Israeli security fence and demand a right of return for all Palestinians. The groups’ joint demonstrations, which routinely degenerate into anti-Israel hate-fests, feature rallying cries like this one, set forth in one of the NCA’s declarations. “Tearing down the Apartheid Wall and fully implementing the Right of Return…is an inseparable duality and an anchoring prerequisite to any justice.”


Like many on ANSWER’s roster, the NCA deals in conspiracy theories. It contends that the Iraq war, ostensibly the brainchild of American imperialists, was also fought at the behest of Israel. It speaks to the virulence of the NCA’s anti-Israel agenda that it has alienated even left-wing critics who share many of the group’s positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Leftist Rabbi Michael Lerner, an anti-war activist and a severe critic of Israel in his own right, refuses to appear at rallies sponsored by ANSWER. After distancing himself from a 2003 rally, which included anti-Israel groups like the NCA, Lerner told the newspaper, Forward, “In my view, the organizers of this demonstration have allowed far too many speakers who believe that this war is being done because Israel wants the war, far too few who share my view that this war is not in the best interests either of Israel or of the United States.”


Here the rabbi is correct. Lost on Lerner, however, is that the NCA has the interests of neither country in mind. To understand why, one need only consider NCA’s national coordinator, Elias Rashmawi. A radical Palestinian activist, the Gaza-born Rashmawi became an American by default: In 1997, the Israeli High Court, aiming to put a stop to Rashmawi’s organizing of militant Palestinian groups while studying in the US, issued an order for his permanent deportation. While that has kept Rashmawi out of Gaza, it has not restrained his extremist fervor.


Today, Rashmawi is a key figure in the increasingly extremist pro-Palestinian movement. Besides heading the NCA, he is a member of the steering committee of the ANSWER Coalition, vice president of the Greater Sacramento area chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and member of the national steering committee of the Free Palestine Alliance (FPA). He is also a member of Al-Awda, a Northern California group whose pro-Palestinian advocacy often boils over into outright rooting for terrorism.


Al Awda’s founding statement, a largely incoherent indictment of “Zionist apartheid, racism, and settler-colonialism in Palestine,” also defends Palestinian terrorism, arguing that “the Palestinian resistance is justified by natural principles of liberty and international laws protecting such liberties.” This is a consistent theme within the group. In 2003, Al-Awda issued a statement pledging its “support for the struggle of the Palestinian people, currently spearheaded by the Intifada.” Lest there be any confusion about the form of “resistance” Al-Awda members had in mind, the group also called for the release of Palestinian terrorists, whom it termed “political prisoners,” from Israeli and Palestinian jails.


Rashmawi’s support for terrorism, however, goes beyond his membership in Al-Awda. In December, 2003, one month after founding the NCA, he helped organize a conference in Cairo. Assembled at the now-infamous conference were ANSWER leaders and hundreds of international and Arab activists, who had come to cheer “acts of resistance in Iraq and Palestine.” So that there would be no confusion about precisely which “acts” were being celebrated, a special guest was in attendance: Osama Hamdan, the head of a Lebanon-based Hamas faction and an outspoken proponent of suicide bombing. Hamden met with Rashmawi and the ANSWER delegation.


For his part, Rashmawi has been careful to avoid making any incriminating remarks supporting terrorism, but his colleagues have been clear about their position on the issue. Following the April, 2004, assassination of Hamas kingpin Abdel Aziz Rantisi, Rama Kased, Rashmawi’s fellow member at Al-Awda, had high praise for the terrorist leader, saying, “Abdel Aziz Rantisi was a son of Palestine, a refugee, and a symbol of resistance against a racist apartheid regime.”


Evidence also suggests that through the NCA, Rashamawi is working to radicalize a new generation of Palestinian activists. In a series of inflammatory speeches he gave in May of 2001, Rashamawi incited Palestinian Students in Davis, Calif., to rise up against “Israeli apartheid,” and exhorted the University of California at Berkeley to divest millions of dollars in companies that support Israel. The effects of his provocation were immediate and destructive. Within days, Palestinian students stormed a U.C. hall to demand divestment before finally being arrested by police. Shortly thereafter, the director of the campus Hillel, Hillel Damron, received a tip that some Arab students were plotting an attack on the Hillel house.


Sure enough, the next morning the Hillel’s roof was in flames--sparked by an Israeli flag that had been set afire. Going on every indication, Damron told reporters he thought Arab groups had been involved. Rashmawi’s response was curious. Rather than defending the conduct of Palestinian activists, he unleashed a stream of heated vituperation, denouncing Hillel and the Anti-Defamation League as “two hard-core Zionist organizations.” Pointedly, Rashmawi did not condemn the arson. Instead, borrowing a page from the NCA manual, Rashamawi screamed racism.


“[T]o place our community in the seat of the accused as a fifth column in the U.S.... [T]he Hillel accusations are racist and bigoted, and, most importantly, are politically motivated,” he raged.  


Hillel’s Damron was far from persuaded. As he told Forward, Look, on Tuesday, I received a warning that some students—Palestinian—may do a, b or c. On Wednesday, I woke up, and this is what happened. You do the math.”


As Damron suggests, it’s not a difficult equation. Under the influence of groups like NCA, Arab and Muslim activists become exponents of extremism, easily the most radical members of the anti-war left. To get a sense of the ideas shaping this new front, one need only consider leaders like Rashmawi. In the run-up to the Iraq war, for instance, he rallied countless supporters to the anti-Israel cause by claiming that the war would clear the way for Israel’s imminent ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.


“Unless challenged globally, Palestinian mass transfer is imminent,” Rashmawi insisted. “Palestine, a primary hurdle to global domination is indeed in the crosshairs of imperial designs.”


In April, 2004, with Washington pushing for an exit strategy, Rashmawi continued to conjure nightmare visions of imperial hegemony. “In Iraq, the design is to break up the nation’s unity and sovereignty under an imposed de-Arabized neo-colonial system of government,” he said. “Washington and friends hope to secure all the resources and geo-positioning, and damned be the Arabs should they get in the way.”


Through the NCA, Rashmawi has successfully tethered conspiracy theories about the Western oppression of Arabs, a standby of pro-Palestinian radicals, to that durable pillar of received leftist wisdom: disdain for Western values and contempt for democratic capitalism. Here, for example, is how Rashmawi recently answered a question about whether powerful corporate families orchestrated the Iraq war. “I don't think there is a group of families [behind it all], but that's just my personal opinion. I think that it's more of an economic structure that sometimes families become a part of.”


With rhetoric like that, Rashmawi has maneuvered the NCA into a prime spot among left-wing groups; it is now a regular at most anti-war rallies. To be sure, the NCA holds fast to its anti-Western, anti-Israeli agenda and, no doubt, its terrorist sympathies. That extremism, however, is now hidden in the general din of radical politics. In short, NCA has become an extremist group in radical garb.


Not surprisingly, no one seems to know what the group is all about. Newspaper articles faithfully echo the NCA’s description of itself as a well-intentioned group of Arab-Americans who hope only to “end racial and religious profiling and advance equal rights for Arabs and Muslims in the United States.”


Last month, however, the NCA suffered a set back: The Federal District Court in New York City refused to issue the group a protest permit to hold a rally on August 28. But the NCA is by no means deterred. Impervious to the city’s explanation of a scheduling conflict, it now claims the civil liberties of Muslims and Arabs have been trampled.


Additionally, the group has announced that on January 20, 2005, it will march in a “counter-inauguration rally” in Washington, DC, to protest “occupations from Iraq to Palestine and beyond.” And, despite its manifest scorn for Western tradition, the NCA promises that, “On that first day of the new administration, we will emphasize our active presence at the table of civil society.”


By then, one only hopes that civil society has recognized the uncivil nature of the NCA and treats it with the disdain it deserves.

Jacob Laksin is managing editor of Front Page Magazine. His email is jlaksin -at- gmail.com

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