Behind the Headlines Arab Mayor’s Snub of Anderson Casts Light on U.S. Politics
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Behind the Headlines Arab Mayor’s Snub of Anderson Casts Light on U.S. Politics

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Bethlehem Arab Mayor Elias Freij’s refusal to meet Congressman John Anderson during his four-day visit to Israel last week is seen here as casting political implications for beyond the West Bank as the presidential election campaign advances.

Freij spurned an interview requested for Anderson, the first candidate to visit Israel during a presidential campaign. A wily politician touted as “a moderate” Arab, Freij charged Anderson with being “prejudiced” for Israel and “against Arab interests” although Anderson has not yet said anything that President Carter or former Governor Ronald Reagan has not espoused or could not generally declare as their own views towards Israel, its neighbors and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Freij snub followed two unique developments in Washington. One was the Carter Mondale Campaign Committee’s appointment of Richard Shadyac, a Washington lawyer, to head the Arab-American Committee to reelect Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale. Never before have U.S. citizens of Arab descent been established as a minority group with political influence.

Another development was the reaction to Shadyac by the American Lebanese League’s head Robert Basil, a physicist and former Pentagon official who was graduated from West Point. Basil charged Shadyac had distorted facts about Americans of Middle East origin and the importance of his organization with which, Basil said, he will have no part whatever.

Shadyac, who is a Maronite Christian and whose father is Lebanese, formerly was president of the National Association of Arab-Americans (NAAA), whose leaders have been in the forefront against Israel and supportive of the Arab states opposed to the Camp David agreements.

When the Carter-Mondale Committee appointed Shadyac, he was honored at a plush dinner given by Helen Haje, head of Dialogues, a Middle East consultant and public relations organization. Guests included Saudi Arabian Ambassador Faisal Alhegolan, Clovis Maksoud, who represents the Arab League in New York and supports the PLO, Lebanese Ambassador Khalil Itani, and Ali al-Sabah, a top Kuwait Embassy official.


Shadyac confirmed to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he has said “there are three and a half million Arab Americans in the United States now and with luck I would say that 85 to 90 percent of them will vote for Carter.” He also confirmed that his group would try to achieve “rights” for Palestinians.

Although members of the NAAA have taken extreme anti-Israel and pro-Arab positions over the years, Shadyac alleged “Arab Americans are not as committed to the Arab side as the Jews are in the preservations of Israel.” Attacking the American Jewish community, Shadyac said “we are concerned about America. We are not willing to compromise American interests for any reason. I think you will find a lot of Jewish American people who care more for Israel than they do for the United States. Arab Americans are totally assimilated.”

Political observers wondered whether the Carter-Mondale Committee will stand for the insults and innuendos he hurled at American Jews.

Asked by the JTA how he looked upon Shodyac’s assertions, Basil said “Shadyac doesn’t have an organization but he has convinced somebody in the Democratic Party he has. I was asked to be the cochairman of that group but I declined.” Continuing, he stated:

“We have an organization of American Lebanese and we don’t want to be identified in the Arab American context. Most American Lebanese are not interested in the ‘Arab American’ context which is a fiction. Ninety percent of the people of the Middle East descent who are American citizens are Lebanese. The American Lebanese are almost exclusively preoccupied, insofar as the Middle East is concerned, with the salvation and resurrection of a free, sovereign, democratic, Western oriented Lebanon that will strongly support the U.S. national interest.”


Basil, who heads an engineering and research firm here and had served for six years in the Department of Defense after being graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1960, declared: “We will not participate at all with Shodyac’s group in any way, shape or form. My impression is that the NAAA will not be formally part of Shodyac’s group. Our reason for being is philosophical. The NAAA looks to be a counter-weight to the Jewish lobby and supports the interests of the Arab League at large. It’s not at all clear American Lebanese will vote for Carter. Many feel Carter has let Lebanon down very much and I expect the bulk will vote against Carter.”

Basil denounced the actions of Palestinian Arabs who are dominated by the PLO and also criticized the State Department’s policy towards Lebanon as “very shallow. “He said its officials “don’t believe what they say.”

While the State Department has severely condemned the forces of Maj. Sood Haddad, the leader of the Christian militia in south Lebanon, as “brigands,” Basil said he looks on Haddad by “his role and not the man. “He added that Haddad “came about because the Palestinians were brutalizing the population” in south Lebanon — “Christians and Shiites, both.”

Haddad, Basil note, “has the support of all the people except the Palestinians who should not be there.” While President Elias Sarkis of Lebanon “has called Haddad an outlaw,” Basil added, “he is doing what has to be considered very constructive and what the people in the south say he should be doing. In the struggle for their elemental survival, certain dimensions of the man (Haddad) are heroic.”

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