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Who are the Arab-Americans and Muslims on State’s Israel/Palestine team?

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In Tel Aviv last November, Kerry consults with Ambassador Dan Shapiro (l), Martin Indyk, and Frank Lowenstein

This weekend in the mail, I got the latest issue of The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. It includes a piece first published in the Gulf News last fall: “The shocking exclusion of Arab-Americans [by the U.S. State Department]” by George Hishmeh, a Washington-based columnist:

The unexpected, if not surprising, appointment of David Makovsky as a senior member of the State Department’s Palestinian-Israeli peace team, led by former US ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, has triggered a wide-ranging discussion on the internet …

Arab-Americans were privately shocked that no attempt had been made by leading members of the Barack Obama administration to engage Arab-Americans — be they politicians, academicians, journalists or members of various think-tanks for this all-important undertaking. On the other hand, many American-Jewish personalities have held several important positions to help tackle this crucial issue that has been troubling all US administrations since the middle of the last century. Among the previous officials were Dennis Ross, Aaron David Miller, Eliot Cohen, Paul Wolfowitz…

Hishmeh wrote his piece before the State Department announced that it was bringing on Laura Blumenfeld, to join Martin Indyk and Frank Lowenstein and David Makovsky. And Jonathan Schwartz.

I called the State Department and was told that Hishmeh is wrong. A State Department official said: 

“Reports that there are no Arab-Americans or American Muslims on the team working on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are entirely inaccurate. Without getting into the specifics of our personnel, I can say we have a diverse team of highly experienced professionals who provide a wide range of advice and perspective to senior officials and undertake key assignments.”

No names, though. I’m curious. How many? Update: Here’s one, Hady Amr. (And here’s a good piece he wrote on the importance of the Gaza flotilla massacre among Arab countries.)

It’s not like it’s just some giant coincidence that there are so many Jews on this beat, or that we know their names. Three years ago, a Jewish official in Washington was quoted in the Jerusalem Post saying that Obama picked Dan Shapiro as US Ambassador to Jerusalem for the same reason Bush chose Elliott Abrams for national security: “Their being Jewish and Jewishly active and known commodities within the Jewish community played a role in their selection.” It’s the same reason Obama kept Bush’s man Stuart Levey on at Treasury on the Iran beat– a protege of Marty Peretz who believed in the “Zionist dream”– and later replaced him with his protege David Cohen, to applause from a leading neocon. It’s the same reason Obama had Dennis Ross on the team — a man Abe Foxman has described as an “advocate” for Israel. All these folks are there to placate the lobby (just as the NYT bends over backwards for pro-Israel propagandists).

Two weeks ago, Adam and I jumped into the question of the privileging of Jewish voices at The Nation, saying The Nation should run more Palestinian writers. We say this although we ourselves have been privileged as Jews. This isn’t just about optics. It’s about communities and perspectives, and the necessity of inclusion. So how high are the Arab-Americans on the Israel/Palestine desk? And where are they coming from?

Update: Laura Rozen had the Hady Amr news a while ago. Along with some other names:

[Julie] Sawyer joins a team that already includes deputy envoy and longtime Kerry confidante Frank Lowenstein. Ilan Goldenberg, a former Middle East advisor at the Pentagon and Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff, has joined the office as chief of staff.

USAID deputy assistant Middle East administrator Hady Amr has joined the envoy’s team as an economics advisor.

Michael Yaffe, a career foreign service officer specializing in Middle East and arms control issues, has joined the envoy’s office to do international outreach with organizations such as the Arab League and the Quartet.

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9 Responses

  1. amigo
    January 9, 2014, 1:16 pm

    “Without getting into the specifics of our personnel, I can say we have a diverse team of highly experienced professionals who provide a wide range of advice and perspective to senior officials and undertake key assignments.”

    Why the subterfuge.Just put out the list or we just have to assume you are a liar.

  2. Walid
    January 9, 2014, 1:27 pm

    The Americans can have all the Jews they want on their team, it’s a given, but who are the competent Arab negotiators on the Palestinian team?

    • aiman
      January 10, 2014, 5:23 am

      A Palestinian competent negotiator would be fired (pun intended). Israel can’t have those around.

  3. Citizen
    January 9, 2014, 10:10 pm

    I agree with amigo. Why the f*** can’t the US government mouthpiece just tell us who’s on the full team representing the USA in these negotiations? What exactly is the government afraid of that it won’t do so?

  4. Citizen
    January 9, 2014, 10:38 pm

    The US Institute Of Peace has issued two studies relevant here as to the American part in the I-P peace process, the last in 2008. The main theme is that there has never been any accountability within the peace negotiations for promises made during the process by anybody.

    Seems to me step number one in the initiating of accountability is to name who all is on the US “honest broker” team. Naming that selection set itself would be informative.

  5. Citizen
    January 9, 2014, 10:47 pm

    According to the Arab press, the US negotiating aka “honest broker” team has accepted and is pushing for all of Israel’s security demands & is not doing the same with the Palestinian demands/requests:

    So, what’s new?

  6. Citizen
    January 9, 2014, 11:35 pm

    “The [US Institute of Peace] book points out on page after page how American leaders missed crucial opportunities because they were not adept at recognizing the difference between tactics that could lead to peace and those used to stall for time. .. ”

  7. chris o
    chris o
    January 10, 2014, 12:48 am

    Regarding the Nation brouhaha, which I missed, I just wanted to say that I first heard of this guy Phil Weiss in the Nation. And I noticed the byline. Yeah, this is good. This is a voice I need to hear. So it may be Jewish, it may be Arab, it may be French, but it might as well have been Martian because it is a voice you don’t or didn’t hear anywhere else (NPR, NY Times, New Yorker etc.).

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