Arab Americans Want to Correct ‘imbalance’ at State Department
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Arab Americans Want to Correct ‘imbalance’ at State Department

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A broad coalition of Arab-American groups has launched a campaign to correct what they call the “imbalance” of American Jews working in the Clinton administration.

The effort to convince the Clinton administration to hire more Arab Americans to work at the State Department and White House comes on the heels of the resignation of a State Department aide who has come under fire for his criticism of Israel.

The campaign is “a very direct result of appointments that have come over the last several years,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute.

Zogby’s son Joseph was the aide who resigned.

Referring to at least half a dozen American Jews in senior foreign policy positions, Zogby said “it is not an issue we feel comfortable in raising. I do not like to get into how many people are Jewish, how many are Arab American” but this is an issue, he said, because of the “imbalance that exists.”

But the call to hire people based on their ethnic background is drawing opposition from many in the Jewish community.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League said the campaign is based on a “crude anti-Semitism.”

Joseph Zogby, who was the only Arab American at the State Department, wrote at least two articles critical of Israel and U.S. Middle East policy before he was hired last year as a special assistant to Martin Indyk, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.

This week Zogby rejected an offer to stay at the State Department, instead resigning effective Friday to work as an attorney in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Zogby had planned to make the move last month but put off his final decision to reconsider an offer to stay at the State Department, with a promotion, after the Zionist Organization of America led a campaign to force his ouster.

Both Zogby and Indyk did not want to appear as if they had caved into pressure from Jewish groups, sources said.

Zogby is leaving because he is frustrated that Indyk has not hired more Arab Americans to work on Middle East policy at the State Department, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Citing State Department rules, Zogby refused to comment this week when contacted by telephone.

Although Zogby has moved on, the controversy is heating up and has reignited debate about the large number of Jews, including Indyk, who run the Clinton administration’s Middle East policy.

Eleven Arab American groups across the political and religious spectrum on Wednesday lobbied the White House and State Department.

“Arab Americans have not sought to imposes an ethnic-based hiring policy on the White House or State Department. But neither can we tolerate a policy where it appears that Arab Americans are excluded from policy positions in the administration,” said Zogby, reading from a statement at a Thursday news conference.

Clinton administration officials agreed to establish a recruitment program for Arab Americans, hire more Arab Americans and meet monthly to follow up on the efforts, Zogby said.

Controversy over Zogby’s appointment came after the ZOA released two published letters written in 1998 from Israel and the West Bank in which he criticized the Oslo peace accords for producing “swiss-cheese cantons and de jure discrimination.” It is “undeniably accurate” that the Palestinians live in an “apartheid state,” he wrote. He also criticized the United States for “willful ineffectuality” and for not acting to “level the power imbalance between the two parties, allowing Israel to unilaterally impose its interpretations of the Oslo accords.”

Zogby also accused Israel of abusing human rights and acting like a colonizer, similar to the “genocidal treatment of the Native Americans and enslavement of African Americans.”‘

Zogby grew up in the United States but spent two years in Israel and the West Bank. He founded the Palestine Peace Project, which brings American lawyers and law students to land under the Palestinian Authority’s control to volunteer with local legal and human rights organizations.

Although Indyk has expressed support for Zogby, he criticized his aide’s views on Israel as “distasteful and disturbing” and said that “the views he expressed then are not acceptable to me or to this administration.”

ZOA President Morton Klein refused to comment directly on Zogby’s decision to leave and instead criticized the Clinton administration’s Middle East policy.

“Zogby’s departure still leaves unanswered the more important question as to how an administration which claims to be pro-Israel could hire someone” who has published articles that “call Israel an `alien oppressor,'” Klein said.

But it is precisely Klein’s campaign that has Arab-American groups calling for change at the State Department and White House.

“I cannot accept a situation where they have a sign `Arabs need not apply,'” James Zogby said.

The only way to change this is “to bite the bullet and to break the glass ceiling.” Zogby compared the campaign to a successful 1979 effort to convince the State Department to hire black Americans to work on African issues.

But the campaign is not only about jobs for Arab Americans, it’s also about the record number of Jews working in the State Department Middle East bureau. “That to me is anti-Semitism because they view all Jewish Americans in the State Department as not representative of America but of the Jewish community,” Foxman said.

“I do not believe this is a Jewish State Department. It’s an American State Department,” Foxman said.

Zogby denied any anti-Semitic motive and said the campaign is about bringing balance to the Clinton administration’s Middle East policy.

“I’m not going down that road,” he said.

Indyk “should not be judged on his religion or ethnicity but on performance,” he said.

“We’re talking about an imbalance in appointments,” Zogby said.

He added, “If the peace process team were all Arab American would Israel be sitting down at the table?”

But others in the coalition have been more critical of the large number of Jews setting U.S. Middle East policy.

“American policy has suffered from the narrowness of the community which has input,” said Hussein Ibish, director of communications for the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

“It should not exclude one group,” he said.

But at the same time Jews should not be excluded, Ibish said. “If there were no Arab or Jewish Americans involved in the Near East policy-making apparatus it would be a real genuine squandering of resources.”

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