It is with a degree of confusion and bewilderment that the Arab Students’ Association (ASA) regards certain statements made by Yale Friends of Israel (YFI) officers in recent weeks regarding our recently-concluded Intercollegiate Arab Student Conference, “Thinking In and Out of Crisis.” In the Oct. 10 Yale Herald, YFI Co-President Nelson Moussazadeh ’05 states that the conference “has a huge potential to make a difference.” In an Oct. 17 Yale Daily News opinion column, YFI Vice President of Political Action Sharon Goott ’06 cites our conference as “setting a new trend in Middle East debate.” Standing on their own, those statements are quite an accurate assessments of the goals of our conference. However, the context in which they were expressed indicates a great deal of naivete and ignorance on the YFI’s part about the nature of our conference and our goals as an organization.
Perhaps the reason for their misguided optimism was because of the introspective nature of the conference, Arabs taking a hard look at Arab problems, which, based on their comments, the leadership of YFI must have misinterpreted as absolving Israel of all blame for the problems plaguing the Middle East. While the consensus of conference participants was that Arab nations must absolutely take huge steps in terms of democratization, economic liberalization and human rights before joining the ranks of the democratic and developed world, Israel remains a very large impediment to the democratization and modernization of the Arab world.
Many of the speakers at our conference, distinguished academics and professionals from all over the world, while highly critical of the unacceptable status quo in Arab countries, were also unequivocal in their condemnation of Israel’s hostile and destructive policies towards Arab populations inside and outside of its borders, as evidenced by its recent assault on a supposed Islamic Jihad “training camp” outside of Damascus (incidentally, the rationale behind the assault is quite ridiculous; human bombs need no practice in training camps). Their criticisms of Israel were not the rantings of an uneducated, radical fundamentalist clique, but the reasoned observations of a Western-educated (in some cases Yale-educated) secular intelligentsia.
What the leadership of the YFI seems to fail to realize is that the conference ran completely counter to its aims as supporters of Israel. The democratization and modernization of the Arab world would spell the death knell of Zionist colonialism in the Middle East. There is a reason why Israel’s supporters in Congress continue to pour billions of dollars into the coffers of despotic police states all over the Middle East, especially Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia: despite their terrible human rights records, complete lack of democracy and antiquated economies, they cause no trouble for Israel. When thousands of people all over the Arab world spontaneously poured into the streets in the spring of 2002 to protest Israel’s assault on Jenin, regime security forces from Morocco to Bahrain opened fire on the demonstrations, killing several people. Rather than pretend to lament the lack of democracy in neighboring countries, Israel and its supporters should be rather thankful that such regimes are in control of the Arab world. If democracy were to take root in Egypt and Jordan, for example, Israel can say goodbye to its “peace treaties” with those nations.
Ariel Sharon and his pro-Israel neoconservative allies in Washington have marked Syria and Iran as the next targets in their rampage through the Middle East, also known as the “War on Terror.” And once again we hear all the usual pontificating about their terrible human rights records, sponsorship of “terror,” weapons programs, etc. But what distinguishes Syria and Iran — two sovereign nations — from Washington’s allies in the Middle East? Nothing: all of them are repressive police states, but Syria and Iran have stood at the forefront of resistance to Zionist aggression and expansionism in the region. Never mind that the sources of all anti-American terrorism can be traced to America’s “allies” in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, or that the groups backed by Syria and Iran do not kill Americans as a matter of their policy; Israel and its Zionist allies in Washington will not allow Hizbullah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the forces of Arab popular resistance to challenge their hegemony in the Middle East, which those groups have successfully done thus far.
Israel’s experience during the current Intifada and its expulsion from South Lebanon should serve as horrifying reminders of the danger Arab popular will poses to Israel. Over the years, Israel has effortlessly defeated one Arab army after the other. However, it never has and never will claim a victory over Hizbullah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad because of their nature as popular resistance movements. Never mind that the fourth most powerful military in the world is arrayed against a ragtag population whose weapons consist of nothing more than stones, machine guns and human bombs; after three years, Sharon is still mired in the territories with no end in sight.
To those in the Yale Friends of Israel who reveled in the mistaken assumption that the ASA’s conference somehow implied normalization with or acceptance of Israel’s role in our region, we ask that they stand corrected. Arab liberation and empowerment undermines rather than supports much of what those in the YFI, if they are honest with themselves, espouse. The purpose of the conference was for Arabs to undertake a critical examination of the deficits of democracy, human rights and economic liberalization in Arab countries; it is offensive that the leadership of YFI would seek to co-opt the hard work that was put in and came out of the conference.
Tammer Riad is a senior in Pierson College. He is co-president Arab Students’ Association of Yale College.