On June 25, the Arab-American community should have learned a valuable political lesson--talk softly and carry a big stick. For months, almost all the leading Arab-American organizations, from the more respectable (only by comparison) Arab-American Institute (AAI) to the virulently anti-Israel American Muslim Council (AMC), and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), loudly trumpeted their support for Earl Hilliard, a black Democratic Representative for Alabama. Numerous fundraising gatherings were announced, with Arab Americans exhorted to contribute. By comparison, Jewish organizations and groups—obviously more sensitive to federal prohibitions against overt politicking and fundraising by educational and charitable organizations—remained mum. But individual members spoke instead with their checkbooks, by supporting Hilliard’s primary opponent—Artur Davis, a Harvard-educated attorney, who is also an African-American. Despite Davis’ superior qualifications and the experience he gained in losing to Hilliard in a previous under-funded campaign, Davis’ impressive 56-44% win still must be considered something of an upset. It obviously must have shocked the Israel-bashers at the CAIR, who, with straight faces given their own considerable efforts on behalf of the loser, angrily charged, in their release-“the pro-Israel lobby buys Alabama seat.” And the AAI’s indefatigable James Zogby—after previously declaring that this was one race the Arab-American community had to win—reversed himself, claiming, “This is not a test of our clout versus their clout.” But this was a contest where there was a clear-cut distinction between the candidates’ position on the Middle East. And in this one, the good guys won.
The reactions of our Arab friends was typical, trying to have it both ways—attacking Jewish-Americans for supporting Davis, while having implored Arab Americans to support Hilliard. After lamenting the loss at the polls in Alabama because of the interference by the Jews, Zogby called on Arab Americans in Majority Whip Tom DeLay’s Congressional District to defeat him because of his pro-Israel stance. Hilliard only proved he deserved his fate with his own comments on his defeat, “I see a future with a great deal of conflict between African Americans and Jews in this country…It’s going to get worse before it gets better. I don’t think African Americans are going to sit back and let this continue. There will be retribution.”
It is hoped that wiser heads will prevail in the Congressional Black Caucus, which derives consistent support for its domestic agenda from their Jewish colleagues and Jewish Americans in general. The Hilliard – Davis match-up reminded old-timers in Washington of another House race in which the pro-Israel community rose to the occasion some twenty years ago when Dick Durbin, now a respected Senator, beat incumbent Israel-basher Paul Findley with the support of the pro-Israel community. Since then there have been only a dozen or so House Members whose retirement by the voters would be welcomed by our community. But with incumbency being such a strong factor in seeking re-election, few opportunities such as Alabama’s seventh Congressional district presented themselves. However, media attention has now shifted to an August 20 primary race in Georgia’s fourth District, where another African-American incumbent, Cynthia McKinney, (arguably the most outspoken anti-Israel voice in Congress), is also facing a credible challenge.
There are stark differences, however, between Hilliard and McKinney besides age (60 and 47), and gender. Hilliard is an old-school ward-heeler politician, ethically challenged, and a back-slapper. McKinney is a flamboyant, “in-your-face” demagogue. For example, she refuses to wear the Member of Congress pin that lets her be readily identified by Capitol Police—thereby seeking to provoke confrontation so she can play the race card. As a guest columnist in Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam hate-sheet, she makes no bones about her extremist views. McKinney not only doesn’t like Israel, Jews, or President Bush; she epitomizes opposition to traditional American values. McKinney is the quintessential protestor, railing against globalization, sanctions against Iraq, and perceived racism. As a Democrat, she once accused Al Gore—during his Presidential campaign—of a “low Negro tolerance level.”
With her slashing style and reckless charges, she is far more dangerous than Hilliard because of the assorted (and sordid) American-bashers who coalesce behind her outrageous views. No wonder she has become the poster girl for Israel’s foes. Last year, she was forced to fire one of her staffers who was indiscreet enough to charge, in writing, that a number of her House colleagues had dual loyalties. Neither was it out of character for her to throw a temper tantrum last October when a former FBI official wanted to show the International Relations a video of terrorist activities in America. However she received the most national publicity for charging President Bush with foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks—in order that wealthy Republicans could profit from them. Earlier, she publicly apologized to the Saudi prince whose offer of 10 million dollars for the victims of 9/11 had been refused by Mayor Giuliani because of the prince’s suggestions that US Middle East policy was partly to blame.
The same Arab-American groups and individuals who came to Hilliard’s aid are redoubling their efforts for McKinney—who has always enjoyed their largesse in the past. As an Atlanta daily recently reported:
“The DeKalb county congresswoman’s connections stretch significantly into the pockets and purses of the Arab-American and Muslim communities…a full third of the money McKinney has collected. McKinney’s list of donors includes some of the top leaders in the national Arab-America and Muslim communities. Among them [is] Abduraham Alamoudi, president of the American Muslim Council, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Washington, McKinney’s relationship with the Arab-American community goes back years. In 1991, as a member of the Georgia House, she admonished President Bush for attacking Iraq. About two-thirds of her House colleagues angrily walked out on her speech. American Muslims are indisputably within their rights as US citizens to assist those who promote their anti-Israel agenda.”
But it is also the right—some might say duty—for the pro-Israel community to help its friends in Congress.
While it might not be easy to defeat this entrenched fifth-term incumbent, it is surely worth the effort, particularly since, here again, a credible African-American challenger has emerged in the person of Denise Majette. Majette, a former State Superior Court judge, has authored a fine Middle East position paper, which is in glaring contrast to McKinney’s views. It is important that McKinney and her ilk become more aware that her anti-Israel views come with a political price. While political lightning may not be expected to strike twice in the same year, the political climate might just be right for another bolt out of the blue next month.