Ben Smith at Politico reports:
A rising chorus of Arab-American activists denounced the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee for cancelling the performance of a musician over the pro-freedom song he was due to perform.
The Justice Department, however, will still send a top official to the weekend event, a spokesperson said.
POLITICO reported yesterday that the ADC, a longtime Washington civil rights group, dropped Syrian-American composer and pianist Malek Jandali over his piece choice at their weekend convention — a new composition with broadly pro-freedom themes but that eschews specific mentions of Syria or the “Arab Spring.” The group declined to comment yesterday on the move and did not respond to inquiries today from POLITICO, but people in communication with it said officials offered explanations ranging from logistics to politics for the decision.
This is the tip of the iceberg of the Syria lobby in the United States, and it raises the question as to why the Obama administration would conduct any outreach to ADC, which has openly and enthusiastically supported Bashar al-Assad.
ADC has a long and infamous record of boosting Assad’s image in the United States. Assad has met with ADC officials and praised their work. While its mission is supposed to be guarding the civil rights of Arab Americans, in 2006 the ADC conference hosted Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha and the Minister of Expatriate Affairs Bouthaina Shaaban. A pro-Syrian democracy blog reported:
During her presentation, the Minister had the audacity to criticize the current US administration policies while simultaneously justifying the crackdown against all dissidents and activists in Syria. She even responded angrily to one local journalist of Syrian descent who pointed out the contradictions in her stand, and went on to accuse Michel Kilo of all different sorts of crimes, including stamping on the Syrian flag!!
Now considering the fact that the basic mission of the ADC is to seek to protect the basic rights of Arab Americans by reporting instances of abuse and lobbying against the passing of any anti-Arab legislation or to work to revoke those that have already been passed, is it by any means reasonable and/or consistent of them to invite such characters to speak at their functions? Is it reasonable for a rights organization to commiserate and empower some of the worst abusers of human rights in the world?
Arab Americans are completely free to disagree with the policies of the Bush Administration in the region, but does rejecting Bush necessarily entail embracing Bashar?
Assad’s Web site (yes, he has one) features a laudatory quote from the former ADC chief, Mary Rose Oakar. (“ ‘We do take pride in the stances of H. E. President Bashar Al-Assad, and in His courageous vision, which has proved credibility to the World in tackling the region causes, and as well in dealing with regional and international causes. I am proud to be an American from a Syrian Origin. As Syrian Expatriates from the Syrian Arab Origin, we are so proud of His Excellency President Bashar Al-Assad.’’)
In sum, it is widely believed among pro-democracy Syrian expatriates that the ADC is “a stooge for the Syrian government,” as Zuhdi Jasser, head of SaveSyriaNow!, put it in a telephone interview today. He points that while ADC’s Web site condemns Israel for repelling border invaders on the anniversary of “al-Nabka, the catastrophe” (the creation of the Jewish state), it is silent on the crimes of Assad. What any of this has to do with ADC’s stated mission, promoting the civil rights of Arab Americans, is far from clear. Jasser is blunt: “Dr. Safa Rifka [ADC board chair] sits on his hands leading a so-called Arab-American organization ‘committed to defending the rights of people of Arab descent and promoting their rich cultural heritage.’ . . . It seems that his definition of rights is ‘under the enslavement of Assad’s thugs.’ ” He questions whose “rights” ADC is protecting: “Instead of calling for the ouster of all Syrian diplomats, the ADC instead is taking their orders from the Syrian Embassy and disinvites a brilliant Syrian American musician so that their Syrian masters in Assad’s embassy are not upset. Rifka and his fellow thugs at ADC do not even have the courage to tell media why they disinvited Jindali.”
Oh, and ADC has received millions from the Saudis. It is difficult to fathom why the U.S. government would treat the ADC as a legitimate, independent organization. Jasser notes that the disinvited musician’s lyrics (“I am my homeland, and my homeland is me. The fire in my heart burns with love for you! Oh my homeland, when will I see you free? When the sun of virtue rises in your sky, when the pen writes of loyalty and love, When the land is watered with the blood of martyrs and the brave,and all people shout: Freedom to mankind! Freedom to mankind! Oh my homeland, cradle of humanity, we pray to the heavenly God, to lift calamities from my country, my people and all mankind!”) should hardly be controversial, unless of course your purpose is to curry favor with and promote the despots of the Middle East.