By Munir K. Nasser
Chief Correspondent, Washington, DC
Middle East politics thrust itself into the center of US presidential and Congressional elections setting off a storm in the US media about Arab and Muslim American donations to the campaigns of George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton.
The storm started on Wednesday when Hillary Clinton announced she would return $50,000 in political contributions she received at a fundraising event sponsored by the American Muslim Alliance because she was offended by anti-Israel remarks made by the president of the group, Agha Saeed.
She also announced that she was returning $1,000 to the American Muslim Council because its Director, Abdul Rahman Al Amoudi, has allegedly made comments supportive of Hamas, which the United States has labeled a Palestinian terrorist organization. She called the views of the Muslim organization on the peace process "offensive and outrageous.”
The presidential campaign of George W. Bush also announced that it would return a $1,000 donation from Al Amoudi for the same reasons.
Bush was endorsed by an umbrella group of four Muslim American organizations last Monday, which includes the American Muslim council.
Hillary Clinton came under attack by her Republican opponent in the US Senate race Rick Lazio for taking what he described as “blood money” from Arab-American groups. Lazio began his attack on Clinton during his campaign in New York by saying he would not have accepted that money. "I would not have attended that fund raiser. It was the wrong thing to do." He said it highlighted Clinton's "inconsistency, equivocation" in her commitment to Israel.
Hillary Clinton has been battling for the loyalty of Jewish voters concerned about the strength of her commitment to Israel and was besieged with questions about the donation from Arab and Muslim groups. She defended her position by claiming that she does not have the resources to check the background of every fundraising event she attends.
Arab American Reaction
The reaction of the Arab and Muslim American community to returning the donations was widespread disappointment and anger. Clovis Maksoud, former Representative of the Arab League in Washington, told Albawaba.com that he had contributed to Hillary Clinton Senate campaign and he expects his check to be returned.
Maksoud said Clinton’s pandering to the Jewish vote diminishes her stature. “This is going to show that playing politics with policy is creating a great deal of frustration which ultimately will erode the reputation of the United States in the whole Muslim world,” he stressed.
Khaled Turaani, Executive Director of American Muslims for Jerusalem, described Hillary Clinton’s action as “completely offensive.” He told Albawaba.com that “pandering has reached a low level of absurdity.”
He wondered if Hillary Clinton or Rick Lazio were running for the US Senate or the Israeli Knesset. “In order to pander to Jewish voters, they are willing to throw their last ounce of human decency and use Muslims and Arabs as a punching bag to prove to their Jewish supporters in New York that they love Israel more,” he said.
Turaani added that this is a competition on who is going to bash Arabs and Muslims harder. “I have no doubt that this is an orchestrated campaign by pro-Israel groups who see Arab and Muslim Americans as a real competition to their dominance over the electoral process in this country,” he explained.
“They are realizing that the unleashing of the power and Muslim voters, if harnessed correctly, is going to damage the interest of pro-Israel groups.”
When asked whether George Bush’s returning Al Amoudi’s money is going to hurt his standing in the Arab and Muslim community, Turaani said Bush is not stooping to the low level of Hillary Clinton. “He is returning the money of one person who is making statements that can be interpreted as supporting Hamas,” he said. “George Bush is not snubbing the American Muslim community to the same whole sale level that Hillary Clinton has reached.”
In a related development, The Arab American Institute (AAI) called on the Arab and Muslim American communities to protest the “crude race-baiting tactics of Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio by sending them checks for the amount of two cents as a form of protest.”
AAI’s President Jim Zogby said this pattern of returning campaign contributions from Arab and Muslim Americans based on guilt by association and legitimate political expression has persisted in the New York senate race. “The community has made great strides in political participation this year
but this latest incident harks back to the dark days of Arab American exclusion from the political process,” he noted.
Zogby said: "To start going through fund-raising lists and targeting the Arab-American names takes us down a road that ultimately creates a very frightening scenario that only could be damaging to the people in my community. It creates a taboo painted on all the Arab-American organizations and individuals."
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)