The war in Lebanon has aroused Arab interest groups nationwide and spawned several new ones, all of them trying to tell the American public their side of the story through press conferences and advertisements, as well as lobbying on Capitol Hill. Most argue that the news media have been too pro-Israel.
"I've never seen an issue galvanize the Arabist community the way the Lebanon situation has," remarked Milt Capps, a press agent registered as working for the government of Saudi Arabia. "I'd call it a mammoth PR effort."
The groups are as split as the Arab world, however, with as many points of focus as there are aspects to the Middle East situation.
The most controversial group is undoubtedly the American Lebanese League, formed in 1975, which in full-page $22,000 ads in The Washington Post this week described the group's goal as withdrawal of all foreign military troops from Lebanon. That is also the Israeli position.
"They're part and parcel of the Israeli lobby," said former South Dakota senator James Abourezk, founder and chairman of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). "They're basically a front group for the . . . rightist Phalangists." He and other Arab group spokesmen said the league represents only a few hundred people.
The league president fires such charges right back. Abourezk's group, said Robert Basil, and others allied with it "are discredited within the Lebanese community" of 2 to 3 million Lebanese Americans, and "are trying to fuse the notions of the Lebanese and the Palestinians to make them indistinguishable, which is specious."
At the moment, Basil said, "We just want the Syrians and the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] out of Lebanon and the Israelis do, too. How the hell can anyone say that's working hand-in-hand with the Israelis?"
Many of the other Arab groups shun the league and are more sympathetic to the PLO and its demand for a homeland in the Mideast.
The newest group is probably the Arab Women's Council, a two-week-old group of Arab women whose husbands are diplomats, Arab businessmen or Americans.
"We think it is a failure on our part that we have to resort to paid ads," said cofounder Nouha Alhegelan, wife of the Saudi ambassador. "We didn't tell you the press our story as we should have."
One radio and two newspaper ads so far, paid for by the group's 100 members, are just the beginning of an effort to boost humanitarian aid to the troubled region, she said. "Anyone who thinks the Israeli invasion of Lebanon is an atrocity is welcome to join us," she said.
The oldest Arab lobbying group is the National Association of Arab Americans, founded in 1972, where 11 staff members work on a budget of about $500,000 a year, according to an April study by Kent Obee for the U.S. Foreign Service Institute.
"We've just about dropped everything but the Lebanon situation," said association president Robert D. Joseph, a Pittsburgh businessman. A blitz of mailings to editors, legislators and members of Congress has worked, he said: "We've seen a real change: although we're not winning the diplomatic battles yet, we're losing them by less. People are more aware of the facts."