WASHINGTON (Aug. 18)
President Bush is likely to use his executive power to push through the nomination of Middle East expert Daniel Pipes to a federal think tank, despite opposition from Arab Americans and some congressional Democrats.
Bush is expected to name Pipes, the director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, to the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace through a recess appointment, which would allow Pipes to serve without Senate approval through the end of the congressional term, according to sources familiar with the situation.
Pipes’ writings have been controversial for years — particularly after the Sept. 11 attacks — and his nomination to the USIP has provoked strong reactions from the Arab-American community, as well as from some mainstream newspapers, since it was announced in April.
Muslim and Arab groups have launched a major lobbying campaign with their lawmakers against the nomination, painting Pipes as an “Islamophobe” who has made racist comments against Arabs and is unqualified to serve on the board of an organization that promotes peace.
“Daniel Pipes is a bigot,” said Hussein Ibish, communications director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “That is a clear and simple fact, demonstrative by his own words.”
Arab groups claim Pipes supports profiling Muslims and Arabs, has suggested that they do not follow proper hygiene and has criticized the enfranchisement of American Muslims, among a list of charges.
Pipes has dismissed such accusations as character assassination by extremists who he believes have taken over American Islamic organizations.
He maintains that he is not opposed to Islam per se, but only to the religion’s more violent manifestations.
The USIP, to which Pipes stands to be appointed, was founded by Congress in
1984 to create programs and fellowships that foster peace and non-violent conflict resolution. While it is not a household name, the organization frequently sponsors lectures in Washington on international conflicts. Its 15-member board is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
Pipes consistently has refused to comment on the nomination. But Several American Jewish organizations — including the American Jewish Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — have been working on his behalf, reaching out to their members to contact lawmakers to back Pipes.
“We’ve known and worked with Daniel Pipes for many years,” said Jason Isaacson, director of government and international affairs at the AJCommittee. “We’ve come to rely on his insight and scholarship.”
Long before Sept. 11, Pipes warned that militant Islam posed a serious danger to the United States, a danger often overlooked or minimized by scholars fearful of appearing culturally intolerant.
Observers say they have been surprised that Bush is willing to expend political capitol in support of Pipes, even as Arab-American groups vow to take the appointment into account on Election Day.
But others say that the recess appointment allows the administration to support Pipes without the embarrassment of long confirmation hearings — which have never been held for another USIP nominee — or Pipes’ possible defeat.
The vote was postponed, but many left the room believing the nomination would not pass.
After media reports last week suggested that Bush would use his recess appointment power, Arab-American and interfaith groups sought to demonize Pipes and urged their members to call the White House.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that a recess nomination of Pipes “would be a slap in the face to all those who seek to build bridges of understanding between people of faith.”
One group suggested that White House officials’ support for right-wing Israeli leaders, such as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was driving the appointment.
“There are extreme pro-Israel individuals in this administration, and they are the ones who are pushing for the nomination of such an extreme candidate,” said Khalid Turaani, executive director of American Muslims for Jerusalem. “Otherwise, why wouldn’t the White House come out and defend the nomination?”
A White House spokeswoman refused to comment, saying only that the White House supports all of its nominees.
Isaacson said Pipes has been a strong supporter of moderate Muslims, and provides some of the most insightful analysis of the Muslim world.
“He has really been at the forward edge in these fields,” he said. “He has been bold, sometimes provocative, and dead on in ways no other has been.
“His voice deserves to be heard,” Isaacson said.
Pipes’ supporters suggest that he did not receive fair consideration at the HELP Committee hearing. Kennedy had told them privately that he would not oppose the nomination, and thus they were caught unprepared when Kennedy instead issued a press release against the nomination.
“It was an ambush on the part of the Democrats,” one Pipes supporter said.
“There is a real unhappiness with the way Kennedy conducted himself.”
Kennedy’s spokesman, Jim Manley, said he knew nothing about the allegations. Kennedy continues to oppose Pipes’ nomination, believing more suitable candidates are available, Manley said.
Pipes has been a frequent target of the Arab community. A Web site, www.danielpipes.com, was launched in 2000, forwarding visitors to a site run by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Pipes threatened to sue, and won the rights to the domain name.
Last year, Pipes launched a Web site called Campus Watch that tracks college professors who denigrate Israel and the United States and justify terrorism and radical Islam.
Critics said the site smacks of academic McCarthyism.