James Zogby and the Politics of Perception

James Zogby isn’t just an Arab American with an opinion. He is the president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), a well-known writer, and an esteemed leader within the Arab American community. Many non-Arab Americans highly regard his analysis and look to his articles as a resource to understand the Middle East.

This is precisely why his latest article, “Rahm Emanuel and Arab Perceptions” is so disturbing. In the piece, Zogby tries to calm the fears of Arab Americans about Barack Obama’s first appointment, Rahm Emanuel, to White House Chief of Staff. Zogby expressed shock and dismay that his constituency, once euphoric over the election of Obama, was now sending him angry and cynical letters. Zogby described the e-mails and calls to his office as “troubled and troubling — because much of the reaction was based on misinformation and because of what the entire episode reveals about the larger political dynamic.”

Zogby immediately followed up with what he calls “the facts” (i.e. a long list of Rahm Emanuel’s accomplishments), while conveniently leaving out any of his troubling positions related to the Middle East, namely that he was a staunch supporter of the war in Iraq and he has expressed hawkish pro-Israel views. The forcefulness of Zogby’s tone is elucidated in phrases such as “he knows how to get the job done” and “it’s as simple as that.” Right off the bat, Zogby informs his readers that if they don’t understand what a gem Emanuel is, they either cannot properly discern the facts, or their judgments are based on wild misinformation.

Zogby assumes that his constituency and the greater Arab American community are generally ignorant and know nothing of Emanuel (aside from the “myths”), and could not possibly come to a rational judgment on an individual who has been vocally pro-Israel, fought for Israel diplomatically, has supported Israeli militancy, and was an unabashed supporter of the war in Iraq. Zogby criticizes the Arab American community for ingesting defamatory myths, such as the claim that “he served in the IDF.” In fact, Emanuel did donate time during the Gulf War to repair IDF tanks; one could argue that, as an American, volunteering to help out a foreign occupying force is much worse than serving as an Israeli who is mandated to do so by law.

Another rumor that Zogby chastises Arab Americans for is the notion that Emanuel is an Israeli spy, which should make them “wary of the slanderous attacks smacking of anti-Semitism.” It is legitimate to debunk falsehoods, and it is right to hold any community to a proper standard, but to infer that Arab Americans should tread lightly or risk being consumed by anti-Semitism is an irresponsible way for an Arab American leader to silence dissent. There are a great many educated Arab Americans who are concerned about Emanuel’s record, and the notion that if you believe Emanuel served in the IDF, you are anti-Semite, is ridiculous. The falsehoods about Emanuel should be rejected, but they have absolutely nothing to do with anti-Semitism and to suggest otherwise is shameful.

Zogby then swerves in a bizarre direction by praising Emanuel’s involvement in the Oslo Accords. Emanuel is the person who coordinated the shaking of hands between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn. The Oslo Accords (which Zogby endorsed) were a complete failure. During the Oslo years, illegal Israeli settlements doubled and the policy that emanated from the accords helped destroy the Palestinian economy. It is the equivalent of proclaiming that Emanuel was the ribbon cutter, unveiling the “bridge to nowhere.”

Compounding his carelessness, Zogby incorrectly equates right wing allegations that “Barack Obama is a Muslim” with rumors that Emanuel served in the IDF. It is notable that in 2006, when MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell referred to Rahm Emanuel as someone who served in the Israeli army in an interview, Emanuel did not dispute the claim (if it was such a slanderous attack, one would think Emanuel, the “practitioner of hard-ball politics,” would have spoken up).

Making his frustration crystal clear, Zogby asserts, “that stories such as these have been circulating, and have taken hold, is as reprehensible as the ‘Barack Obama is a secret Muslim/Manchurian candidate’ tale, or the anti-Arab anti-Muslim canards to which I and many of my colleagues have been subjected over the years.” What Zogby fails to mention is the fact that there is nothing wrong with being a Muslim, yet there is something fundamentally wrong with the IDF illegally occupying 3.8 million Palestinian people, subjugating them to incessant collective punishment, and cordoning the people of Gaza into an open-air prison.

Ending his lesson on “the facts,” Zogby seems to contradict his own assertions. He contends that Arab Americans should understand the “political realities,” and that just about all members of Congress are pro-Israel. Is Zogby suggesting that Arab Americans just suck it up, sit on their hands, and get used to the status quo? What happened to the change Barack Obama was going to usher in?

It is strange that the man behind the Yalla Vote! campaign is using these tactics to push his constituency into giving Emanuel a free pass. Whether these appointments are to be expected or not, wouldn’t Arab Americans expressing their concerns be a good thing? Isn’t that part of the democratic process and the reason why they engaged in this election cycle to begin with: to bring change to Washington.

While Zogby wants us to be aware of the “political realities,” the actual reality for many Arab Americans is simple: this appointment represents more of the same — whether it is the hawkish policies of the Bush administration or the destructive Mideast policy that was wrapped in nicer packaging during the Clinton years. Americans worked tirelessly for two years to elect Barack Obama. Now is the time to work tirelessly to ensure that the change that he promised comes to fruition.

The mission statement of the AAI reads in part, “The Arab American Institute (AAI) represents the policy and community interests of Arab Americans throughout the United States and strives to promote Arab American participation in the U.S. electoral system.” Perhaps Zogby should reread his own organization’s mission statement.

Remi Kanazi is the editor of Poets For Palestine. He will be touring the US and Canada this fall on the Poets For Palestine tour.He can be contacted at Remroum@gmail.com. Read other articles by Remi, or visit Remi's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Kenny said on November 18th, 2008 at 8:45am #

    If I was a Palestinian, I would be delighted with Rahm Emanuel’s appointment because it is so barefaced, so flat-footed and, in general, such a monumental diplomatic blunder that it suggests that the Israel Lobby is in total panic. Emmanuel as a sort of Lord High Chancellor, Hillary (the person the Lobby wanted to install in power) as what a British paper called “Mrs Foggybottom”, the bailout of Wall Street (which Israel needs) and the refusal to bail out the carmakers (which Israel doesn’t)! The US government has been hi-jacked, not by the Jews, not even by Israel, but by a handful of Jewish millionaires who want to use it to advance the ideology of the Likud Party. That looks awfully like a last ditch stand by people who have nothing left to lose.

  2. bozhidar bob balkas said on November 18th, 2008 at 8:50am #

    we can expect a worsening of pals sit’n regardless of arab tomism in US.
    it is not suprising that after abbas’ volte face, there wld be others in US/Canada who wld also turn against pals. thnx

  3. Doug Rogers said on November 18th, 2008 at 11:38am #

    To think, an Arab-American was even on the ballot. But the mass of Arab-Americans felt compelled to go along with Obama even though he was unequivocal that he would be serving the interests of Israel. If progressives are unable to coalesce into an identifiable voting bloc, you’d think that an honest to god ethnic group would be able to identify themselves as a distinct group that needs to be courted in close elections.

  4. Shabnam said on November 18th, 2008 at 2:56pm #

    Many Arab Americans have complained about James Zogby and warned others about him that he represents NO ARAB AMERICANs other than himself. This is not the first time where he has protected a biased Zionist for his own interest. He did the same thing with Martin Indyk, the designer of ‘The Dual Containment’ responsible for more than 650,000 deaths in Iraq, soft partial of the country by ‘No fly Zone’ during the Zionist administration of Bill Clinton. James Zogby praised Martin Indyk’s appointment to a high post in Clinton cabinet and he wrongly said “Arabs don’t have a problem with Martin Indyk.” I don’t know which Arab he was talking about. According to ‘Anryarab,’ his praise for Martin Indyk was due to his personal gain since Indyk hired his son to work for him.
    James Zogby dislikes the concerns of and Muslims and Arab community on selection of Rahm Emmanuel as chief of staffs by Obama, president for CHANGE, after selection of a self announced Zionist, Joe Binden as vice president and now he is considering another trusted Zionist as secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and Deputy of State, Richard Holbrook, a WIN WIN situation for the Zionists running the white house. Zogby writes:

    “Arabs and Arab Americans need to ground their expectations in political realities and be wary of slanderous attacks smacking of anti-Semitism, and U.S. political leadership must learn to be as attentive to Arab sensitivities as they are to the concerns of others.”

    These words are written after racist attack by Emmanuel’s father, Benjamin Emmanuel, on the day of his son selection as Chief of Staffs against ARABS who Zogby thinks represents:
    “Obviously he’ll influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn’t he? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to be mopping floors at the White House,” the elder Mr. Emanuel told the Israeli daily Ma’ariv, according to English-language reports in The Jerusalem Post and The Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
    This racist remark is made despite the fact that Muslim community in the US are one of the most educated and professional community among others. This racist remark perhaps is based on his own experience as a gatekeeper of the prisons in the occupied Palestine dealing with Palestinians who have been forced into prison system in their own land by being kidnapped or have been illegally arrested and imprisoned.
    James Zogby is closely associated with the Zionists and, US policy and the Arab puppet head of states in the Middle East. Zogby and his organization benefited from his close association with ‘Arab Moderate States” an reached an “agreement” with Prince Al-Walid Bin Talal according to which the Prince will reportedly pay some half a million dollar a year (over several years) to Zogby’s organization, according to ‘Angry Arab.’
    Furthermore, a comment such as “The US government has been hi-jacked, not by the Jews, not even by Israel, but by a handful of Jewish millionaires who want to use it to advance the ideology of the Likud Party. That looks awfully like a last ditch stand by people who have nothing left to lose”
    is misleading since such a strong influence by the Zionist lobby and its many think tank requires thousands of skill Zionists to run such a wide operation to manipulate foreign policy of an empire for its own interest in the Middle East and Africa. The Zionist influence is not limited to the Likud Party. Bill Clinton administration was considered the most Zionist administration due to highest number of settlements and change of the term the OCCUPIED LAND to the DISPUTED LAND and the most brutal sanction on the whole Iraqis population, to smoothen the path for the neocon invasion. Destruction of Iraq and destabilization of the whole region including Palestine was speeded up by Clinton Administration. Thus, majority of Muslims voted for George Bush in 2000 election.

  5. Michael Hureaux said on November 18th, 2008 at 3:11pm #

    The reservation cops are always weighing the struggle down. Zogby is the Arab American cross to bear, just as Blacks in this country must stagger under the weight of the Jackson dynasty and the new Obama hoopla. Working class whites have to deal with their Clintonism and fetish around phonys like John Edwards. The reservation cops are always weighing the struggle down.

  6. Rev. Richard Skaff said on November 22nd, 2008 at 12:57pm #

    Mr. Zogby is an insider and a member of the elite club. He was co-opted several years ago by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and has been a loyal member ever since. He has pushed for every political agenda that his masters and policy makers have requested him to do.
    People in his position have to support their masters’ agenda to maintain their lifestyle, and the little power they think they have.
    Zogby will support Ariel Sharon if he was to come back from his vegetative state and be appointed in the Obama administration.
    Mr. Zogby does not speak for Arab-Americans, but speaks only for himself as a representative of his masters.