On Media / Pop Culcha

Jewish World Review Sept. 4, 1998 / 13 Elul, 5758

Jonathan S. Tobin

Jonathan S. Tobin Pro-terror groups' cry of discrimination rings hollow

IN RECENT YEARS, a new group has been added to the pantheon of victims in modern culture. Arab-Americans have organized, and in the best tradition of American democracy have cried out against what they claim is systematic discrimination.

Like many other minority groups, Arab-Americans have a legitimate beef.

People who look, sound and talk different from the majority have always faced an uphill fight in America. Though anti-Arab discrimination was never as institutionalized as anti-black hatred, as ingrained in American history as anti-Hispanic sentiment or as rooted in the culture of western civilization as Jew-hatred, it exists nonetheless in our society and popular culture.

Understandably, Arab-Americans are outraged when depictions of Arabs in the movies and on television are limited to characters who are bloodthirsty terrorists or quaint exotics. The millions of ordinary peace-loving and hard working American citizens who are Muslim or of Arab descent deserve and have a right to expect -- like everyone else -- to be treated with respect.

To that end, Arab-Americans have followed the pattern of American Jews and established groups dedicated to fighting discrimination and defamation of Arabs and Muslims. In that effort, they deserve the support of American Jews.

Indeed, their efforts have gained a lot of press lately with their protests against a forthcoming feature film entitled, "The Siege." The Edward Zwick production stars Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis in a story about Arab terrorism in the U.S. The producers went all out to avoid stereotypes -- even making one of the good guy policemen an Arab-American. But that wasn't enough for the Arab groups, who are still unhappy about the movie.

But the story isn't quite that simple. The problem is, the claim of discrimination falls apart when it demands that depictions of terrorism never be associated with Arabs or Muslims. The problem with their protests is that Arab and Islamic terrorism isn't a stereotype or a racist fabrication. While it ought not to tar every Arab or Muslim, it is still real.

Unfortunately, in their effort to halt discrimination, these same groups have chosen not to disassociate themselves from the excesses of Islamic fundamentalism and Arab nationalism in the Middle East. Indeed, some of these same Arab and Muslim anti-defamation groups such as the Council on American- Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (AAADC), have become the most important defenders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the United States. Even worse, they have taken on the task of smearing anyone who speaks out against these groups or investigates their activities.

The main target of their ire has been investigative journalist Steven Emerson.

Emerson has earned this enmity with ground-breaking work on the network of supporters of Arab terror groups operating in the United States. His documentary film "Jihad in America" was shown on public television and won many awards. His writing regularly appears in leading newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and he has testified as an expert on the topic of terror support groups before Congress.

All this has made him a marked man. But rather than argue the merits of the cause of the bloodthirsty terror groups like Hamas whose actions they rationalize, CAIR and others have gone on the offensive smearing Emerson as a racist.

Emerson's reporting has revealed the hate and support for terror inside their groups that goes on in a routine manner inside CAIR. But, as far as CAIR is concerned, the mere fact that Emerson has told the truth about them and other Hamas supporters makes him dangerous. And like all political extremists they believe those who disagree with them must be destroyed.

Given the fact that Emerson's work has been confirmed by law enforcement agencies who have started to crack down on Hamas fundraising, one would think that radicals like CAIR would have no more influence than the nuts who make up the far-right militias.

But that is to underestimate them.

Leading Arab- Americans such as Washington Democratic party insider James Zogby, a man who has entry to the White House and the highest levels of political leadership in the country, have taken up their drumbeat, repeatedly blasting the truth- telling Emerson.

But the latest and most egregious instance of these "anti-discrimination" activities is their apparently successful effort to persuade National Public Radio to ban Emerson from its airwaves.

After a campaign by the Arab-American Action Network (AAAN), NPR's national news editor Michael Fields apparently promised that Emerson would not appear on the publicly funded radio network again. But after Emerson was interviewed last month on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" program, AAAN leader Ali Abunimah demanded again that Emerson be banned.

Astonishingly, the program's producer Ellen Silva apologized and promised in an e-mail that Emerson "won't be used again. It is NPR policy."

When Boston Globe and JWR columnist Jeff Jacoby inquired about this statement, Silva backed off and claimed there was no NPR policy on Emerson. But if not, why had she said in writing that there was such a policy? Jacoby rightly questioned why NPR, which is funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars approved by Congress, had banned a man whom Congress has used as an expert on the topic.

But that's where the anti-Arab discrimination crowd came in again. Following Jacoby's Aug. 31 column in the Globe and on JWR, the Council of American-Islamic Relations fired off a press release accusing -- you guessed it -- Jacoby of being an anti-Arab racist. Citing Jacoby's defense of the Jewish claim to Jerusalem as well as his writing about Yasser Arafat's references to the Prophet Muhammad's broken treaty with the Jewish tribes of Arabia (a troubling precedent for those who place their faith in Oslo), CAIR falsely branded Jacoby as someone who had defamed Islam.

But they didn't stop with that. They had the audacity to claim that Jacoby's column about what these same Arab groups were doing to Steve Emerson was "fabricated" and called for his firing. After the demise of columnists Patricia Smith and Mike Barnicle for fabrications, that's a fighting word at the Boston Globe. Will the Globe's editors try to assuage the claims of anti- Arab bigotry by "investigating" Jacoby?

Anything is possible.

The unpleasant fact in this sordid story is that the people crying discrimination and bigotry are themselves the haters. They are the front men for groups like Hamas whose main purpose is to kill and maim as many Jews and Americans as possible and to destroy the state of Israel. Their enemy isn't discrimination against Arabs, but the truth that men like Emerson and Jacoby are risking their careers to bring out into the light.

American Jews have an obligation to rise to their defense with at least as much fervor as Arab and Muslim groups have displayed in trying to blacklist them. NPR and the Boston Globe need to be told that we will not tolerate theirgiving in to front groups for Hamas.

If Emerson and Jacoby are effectively silenced, then no one is safe.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Connecticut Jewish Ledger. He was the recipient of the American Jewish Press Association highest award: First Place in The Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary and Editorial Writing. The Rapoport award is named for the longtime editor of the Jerusalem Post and was given to Mr. Tobin at the AJPA's 1997 Simon Rockower Awards dinner at Cleveland on June 18, 1998.


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©1998, Jonathan S. Tobin