Jun 19th 2012

Our Government Is Failing to Protect Our Rights

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

A few weeks ago a Palestinian-American woman, Sandra Tamari, traveling to the West Bank to visit her family was stopped by Israeli airport officials and ordered to log on to her email account and provide her password so that the Israelis could read her private communications. They insisted this be done before they would allow her to enter the country. From reports we are receiving, this practice has become routine.

Disturbing? You bet it is. But even more upsetting was what happened when Ms. Tamari spoke to a U.S. official. As she relates their conversation:

U.S. Official: Hello. I got your number from_____. You are being questioned by Israeli authorities, I understand.

Sandra Tamari: They are threatening to deport me.

U.S. Official: Are you Jewish?

Sandra Tamari: No.

U.S. Official: have you been in contact with the Israeli government or military before?

Sandra Tamari: No

U.S. Official: Have you been here before?

Sandra Tamari: Yes, several times. I am a Palestinian with family in the West Bank.

U.S. Official: Oh, you have family in the West Bank. Then there is nothing I can do to help you. In fact, if I interceded on your behalf, it will hurt your case with the Israelis.

Sandra Tamari: I don't understand. You are saying you can't speak with them. You have no influence. They are demanding to access my gmail account. 

U.S. Official: If they have your gmail address, they can get in without your password.

Sandra Tamari: What do you mean? How?

U.S. Official: They're good!

Sandra Tamari: This is crazy. You mean you know about these requests to access emails and you have no problem with it.

U.S. Official: It is in our travel warning. They won't harm you. You will be sent home on the next flight out...

This story is infuriating on many levels. Israeli treatment of Americans of Arab descent is demeaning and disgraceful - though it pales in comparison with the daily humiliation endured by Palestinians at checkpoints and borders. More disturbing is the acceptance of this behavior and the cavalier disregard some American officials have displayed to these violations of the rights of their own citizens.

I have been dealing with issues of this sort for 35 years. And I have, myself, been personally subjected to hours of frustrating and humiliating interrogations by Israeli officials. Since the 1970's we have logged with the State Department the complaints of hundreds of American citizens of Arab descent traveling to or within Israel and the Occupied Territories who were: detained for hours of humiliating questioning; denied entry, turned away at airports and made to buy tickets to return home; forced to surrender their American passports and to secure, against their will, a Palestinian ID document; denied permission to exit; strip searched; or had property stolen or deliberately destroyed by airport inspectors. The stories are hurtful and have caused great distress to many. There are many Palestinian Americans who, because of their concern with this treatment, have simply stopped going to visit their families.

We have called successive U.S. administrations to task for failing to hold Israel accountable for these behaviors which are in clear violation of their treaty obligations to the U.S. In the 1951 U.S.-Israel Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation, Israel pledges to permit U.S. citizens "to travel freely, to reside at places of their choice; to enjoy liberty of conscience" and to guarantee them "the most constant protection and security". 

We have also questioned why American officials have failed to deliver on the assurance implied on the opening page of every U.S. passport: "The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection".

Sadly, instead of protecting its citizens, the U.S. has all too often feigned powerlessness, thus enabling Israel to continue to violate the rights of Arab Americans with impunity. This is unconscionable since it relegates Arab Americans to the status of second class citizens.

Does the U.S. "special relationship" with Israel cancel out the right of American citizens of Arab descent to equal protection by their own government? From the comments of the U.S. official to Ms. Tamari, that would appear to be the case. The "travel warning" he pointed out to her specifically notes that "U.S. citizens with Arabic or Muslim names, those born in Muslim or Middle Eastern countries" can be expected to be treated differently by "Israeli border authorities". To understand just how infuriating this warning is, substitute "Jewish" for "Arabic" and "Jordanian border authorities" for "Israeli border authorities". Then ask yourself what the reaction of the State Department and Congress would be if that were the case? Would they merely issue a "warning" or "advisory" to American Jews - as if this behavior were some "act of nature" to be lamented but accepted? And yet this is exactly what happened to Sandra Tamari and it is what has happened repeatedly for decades to countless other Arab Americans traveling to and within Israel and the Occupied Territories.

I have been assured by many Secretaries of State that there is but one class of U.S. citizenship, that our rights, as Arab Americans, will be protected and that this matter will be taken up with Israeli authorities. They have done so, and yet the systematic discrimination against and harassment of Americans of Arab descent by the State of Israel not only persists, it has worsened.

This is because after the initial protest is ignored by Israel, our government shrugs its shoulders as if to say "there is nothing more we can do". Well there is something more they can do. They just either cannot or will not muster the political courage to protect the rights of my community when Israel is involved.  And they admit as much with their pathetic travel warning.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "
Jun 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " While many conservative Republicans opposed Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6th, and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership’s continued cowering in the face of what they now call "Trump's base" has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity. "
May 26th 2021
Editor's Note: This article is about the Federal Reserve, inflation in the 1970's, and possible similarities to today.
May 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Netanyahu claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. He certainly is not. Many Jews around the world, including me, despise Netanyahu’s racist politics. As an American, I am also deeply troubled by the US government’s knee-jerk support of Israel. Fortunately, I am not alone in this view. A growing number of Democratic Congressmen, Jews and non-Jews alike, have called on the United States to stop supporting Israel’s lawlessness. The truth is that the US government’s uncritical support for Israel has come to depend more on evangelical Christians, such as former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, than on American Jews, who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s actions. And the evangelicals’ real interest in Zionism is not Jews’ security, but Armageddon, the end of the world, which they believe will come only when all Jews are in Israel."
May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds."
May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."