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UNITED STATES: Middle East Policy--The Arab world as seen by WAISers

The presidential debates have been utterly unconvincing. All four candidates of the two major parties were coached in such things as to how not to wag their head, how to score points, how to appeal to segments of the electorate, etc. It was all a con game to win votes. Foreign policy, notably Middle East policy, was not seriously discussed. To appeal to the Jewish lobby and offset the presence of Joe Lieberman on the Democratic ticket, George W. Bush stressed his support of Israel. Both parties realize that there is a growing Islamic vote, but not wishing to offend Jewish voters, they appealed to it covertly. The Economist (10/14) ran a feature article "The birth of an Arab-American lobby", of which Detroit is the center. Both parties have been working it without publicity .

Despite wide differences of opinion, the independent candidates spoke thoughtfully and well. On the Middle East, Ralph Nader gave the most balanced view. Many people, even Jews, have told me they would vote for him but did not want to waste their vote. The US is out of touch with world opinion on the Middle East as the UN vote condemning Israel showed. Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke are excellent individuals, but it is a mistake to have two Jews representing the US in international forums. Madeleine Albright's story that she was surprised to find that she is Jewish is generally disbelieved.

There was a similar problem regarding the Mexican vote. The major candidates tried out a little Spanish on them. Latin Americans showed scant interest in US foreign policy except for immigration, legal and illegal, the Spanish language, and affirmative action. The only candidate who talked turkey to them was Pat Buchanan, while his views on the UN were vehemently hostile and quite unrealistic. Mexican Americans resent his "English only" views, but he is right; language is the glue which holds nations together.

The Middle East is now the most critical area, and scenes of street fighting give a distorted picture of the competing cultures. As Disraeli said, Islam is Judaism on horseback. Islam is even more warlike and therefore, especially in its extreme forms, a constant threat to peace, even more than Zionist extremism. However, the Zionist policy is based on the theory that the Jews are God's chosen people and that the land from the Nile to the Euphrates is theirs by right of manifest destiny. Liberal Jews reject the Chosen People dogma. As one said "God, please choose another people!" It is even buried in Christian beliefs. As a small choirboy in an Anglican church, I prayed regularly for "thy chosen people, Israel," and I sang the beautiful psalm "By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we thought of thee, oh Zion!" I sang similar things without any sense of what was involved, e.g. "Joab is my washpot." All established religions have things which should be thrown into the garbage can of history.

This pro-Israel mental substratum blinds us to the more attractive side of Arab life. Miles Seeley, who knows the Arab world well, defends it against its Jewish critics. This week I had the pleasure of welcoming here two WAISers. One was Martin Storey, a Stanford graduate of dual English-French nationality. An idealist, upon graduation he volunteered for Médicins sans Frontières and was sent to Sudan, of which most of us take a very bleak view. He spoke with enthusiasm and affection of the Sudanese people, and the other visitor, Jaqui White, who knows the Middle East well, confirmed his views.

Who knows? Despite Saddam Hussein, the Iraqis probably have similar qualities, one of which is a sense of hospitality and dignity. I find the Spanish people dignified and hospitable, and I attribute those qualities largely to their Arab heritage. The Spanish language is very beautiful and sonorous, qualities probably due to the fact that Castilian began as Latin spoken by Basques, whose native language had sonorous qualities which the Romans admired. Like all cultures, that of Spain has many ingredients.

In sum, the Middle East confrontation is an excellent example of the problem WAIS is fighting: the inability of one country or group to comprehend the worldview of others.

Ronald Hilton - 10/22/00