Sunday, March 27, 2005

Who is Ziad Asali? The Anti-Palestinian Activist and PMUNA Board Member

Another member of the Progressive Muslim Union’s Board of Director is Ziad Asali. He is a doctor of internal medicine in Illinois. He is also President and founder of the American Task Force on Palestine. Another PMU Board Member, Hussein Ibish, also serves on the ATFP as a Senior Fellow. Here’s some more information on Dr. Asali.

Ziad J. Asali, M.D., is the President and founder of the American Task Force on Palestine, a 501(c)3 non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, DC. Dr. Asali is a long-time activist on Middle East issues. He has been a member of the Chairman's Council of American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) since 1982, and has served as ADC’s President from 2001-2003. He served as the President of the Arab-American University Graduates (AAUG) from 1993-1995, and was Chairman of the American Committee on Jerusalem (ACJ), which he co-founded, from 1995-2003. He is currently on the Boards of OneVoice, A Different Future and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Dr. Asali is the author of several publications that include: “From Crusades To Zionism” (1993) “Zionist Studies of the Crusades” (1992) “Expedition to Jerusalem” (1990).

But a few weeks ago, he made some people, particulary Palestinian activists upset when he stated in Forward Newspaper that Palestinians should abandon their right to return. And it’s not the first time he’s made this statement. He said the same thing at a United Nations/Non-Governmental Organization Conference in September 2002. As you can imagine, his words have been condemned by no less than 25 Palestinian activists groups such as Al-Awda, The Global Palestine Right of Return and the Palestinian Arab Women League. Maybe Dr. Asali was not aware that the Palestinian right to return has been understood by the international community since 1948.

I must thank the PMUNA Debate for all the information that I found and I hope that in the future, all of their findings will be categorized on their blog. I picked up this juicy tidbit from the PMUNA Debate blog.

In reality, voices such as Asali's are part of a larger concerted effort to introduce a false veneer of moderation as a replacement for the legitimate inalienable rights of the Palestinian and Arab people, represented by their right to return, sovereignty and self-determination. Through organizations like ATFP, Asali has gone even beyond the Geneva Accords, the Nusseibeh-Ayalon Agreement and other such attempts that violate fundamental, inalienable and natural rights that are enshrined in international law.

From under the garb of hollow US democratization, Asali has in effect been diligently advancing the neo-conservative plan for the "New Middle East," where nations and people are reconstituted against their will. Of particular concern is the concerted attempt by Asali and a few others to normalize efforts leading to self-defeat and the nullification of the right to return. Asali made a statement to Forward recently that "we (Palestinians) must now separate the right from the return, " and that "there is really nothing to return to. It is Israel now". Instantly Asali became a celebrity in Zionist circles. Dr. Asali is free to forfeit hisright to return to his home in Jerusalem, but he has no right to dismiss, hurt or forfeit the rights of 6 million Palestinian refugees.

But, my dear readers, it gets better. A few weeks back Ahmed Nassef, editor of and executive director of the PMUNA attended a Hillel conference, an organization for Jewish college students…amongst other things. Here's Hillel's statement follows:

Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life is the central address for the Jewish community on campus providing opportunities for students to explore and celebrate their Jewish identity. An integral part of this activity relates to Israel, which today is often the target of attacks on college campuses. Hillel promotes a multi-faceted and pro-active approach to Israel programming and training for its staff and students. Hillel's nationwide presence and infrastructure also helps facilitate greater understanding of and opportunities for partnership with other leading Jewish organizations that want to share their resources with college students.

Part of their efforts to defend the state of Israel was to achieve a large turnout of Jewish students at a lecture given by Norman Finkelstein at Carnegie Mellon University which Hillel labels as him as anti-Zionist. This event was supported by the Arab Student Organization, the Muslim Student Organization, the Pittsburgh Palestine Solidarity Committee and Students for Justice in Palestine.

Interestingly enough, Ahmed Nassef received glowing compliments from the conference as stated in the article for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.

Nassef is the founder of Muslim WakeUp!, a 2-year-old organization dedicated to creating a progressive Muslim culture in America, and his efforts have met with some initial success. And as far as I could tell from visiting the organization’s Web site, the man hasn’t lost his sense of humor trying. On the other side, non-Muslim Americans shared misconceptions that the majority of Muslim men were pious militants who kept their women in burkas — what Bill Maher so sweetly refers to as “beekeeper suits.”

Risama Note: Did you guys know that Bill Maher's got a little Lebanese in him?

Nassef was certain — informed by studies and his own experience — that most Muslim Americans were more like him. A Zogby survey (SNICKER!!!) found that about 10 percent engage in a high level of observance. The rest, like himself, observe some holidays and cherish their faith and heritage, but have no consistent relationship with the politics or institutions of these 10 percent. “I figured there are a lot of people who feel the way I do,” he said. “And I began to wonder how I could reach them.”

He decided a Web site was the ideal way to reach an untapped audience. reflects the widest possible swath of the Muslim American experience. It is pro-gay rights and pro-women’s rights. It has a section called “Sex and the Umma,” which features Muslim women’s erotica (guess which part of the site gets the most hits).

Risama Note: Porn is also a big go-getter and when Muslimas write it, it's even juicier. Wink!

In December, hackers penetrated and slathered it with accusations of apostasy. Nassef has received hundreds of angry e-mails, and some death threats. But he majored in Islamic studies at UCLA, is a native Arabic speaker, and doesn’t shirk from confronting those who claim their Islam is the one true one. “Secularism has a long tradition in the Arab world,” he said. “I think there is movement,” he said. “We’re going through an important time in our community. More and more people are seeing us as a voice.”
Recent books by Irshad Manji and Asra Nomani (
Subhan'allah)are hopeful signs that he is correct.

But as we can see, the Palestinian problem, that pink elephant in the room, wasn’t mentioned in that particular conference or in this article. Sigh. Of course, not all those encounters with Hillel have been so great.

I was surprised recently to read that the Executive Director of the Progressive Muslim Union of North America spoke at a policy conference of the North American Jewish organisation Hillel. I was even more suprised at what he said. And I was shocked that he then trumpeted the event as some kind of big move forward for American Muslims. I should confess that my experiences with Hillel members were at campuses in North America (during a speaking tour 2 years ago organised by the Vancouver-based Palestine Solidarity Group) when I spoke on Palestine and, more particularly, Israel as an Apartheid state.

At one Vancouver campus, they repeatedly tore down the posters so that by the time the event happened, it was dominated by about 80% Hillel supporters. At some other campuses they heckled, tried to disrupt and refused to listen. In Berkeley, members of Hillel joined a campaign to boycott a dinner organised by the Boalt Law Foundation. The dinner is the main annual fund-raising event to raise funds for disadvantaged students to study at Boalt Law School. The BLF's crime? They co-sponsored my lecture there. After much trauma for the BLF and Palestinians and Palestinian supporters at the university, a joint letter was issued. The complainants, including the Hillel members, could not even use the term "Palestinian students" in the letter; it had to be "students of Palestinian descent".Last year, at a university in Vancouver, Hillel used racial profiling to forcefully prevent certain people from entering a hall where an Israeli official was speaking.

So, for a group that claims to be huge advocates for human rights now finds itself making alliances with groups that could care less about Israeli and Palestinian suffering. I have no problem with “hugging Jews,” especially Jews like Jews Against Zionism, Orthodox Jews Against Zionism, Jews Not Zionists, Jews Against the Occupation, Jewish Voice for Peace, the REAL Refuseniks, and B’tselem. Why isn’t the PMUNA working with these guys? Caring about the civil and human rights of Palestians goes beyond wearing a t-shirt or kaffiyeh. Are we so adamant about ridding our community of anti-semitism that we are willing to forget or even deny that the Palestianians have any rights? Even those rights that have been long ignored by the Geneva Convention? Subhan’allah! But when you’re in the business of making alliances with the RAND Corporation like our good friend Aiman Mackie, I guess they can’t be concerned with things like that.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Salaam 'Alaikum

I noticed in Nassef's statement about secularism that he said secularism has a "long tradition" in the Arab world. Sort of supports my suspicions that MWU / PMU, and "progressive" Islam as a whole are ethnocentric and elitist. Like some of our other brethren, he seems to confuse "Muslim" with "Arab." I could really care less what sort of *political* traditions the Arabs have; I'm not one of them and don't think I should be bound to do whatever the Arabs do. The difference is that when the "Wahabiya" do it, "progressives" launch into Arab-bashing.

2:53 PM  
Blogger altaf said...

Salaam --- great post!

if you can correct the link to the statement by the Palestinian groups where you say:

as you can imagine, his words have been condemned by no less than 25 Palestinian activists groups.

that correct link is:

or you can also use:

3:55 PM  
Blogger izzymo said...

Walaikum salaam Umm Zaid and Altaf,
That's a good observation. Why does everything Islamic have to be determined from an Arab point of view. And secularism may have a long tradition in the Arab world but not necessary a good tradition.

Brother Altaf,
Thanks for the corrections.

7:59 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

Assalaamu alaikum,

What about Zogby's polls?

4:46 AM  
Blogger Amani said...

yes. When is the media going to get out of the habit of using arab and islam as synonyms??

8:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well the "Arabs and Muslims" thing irks me too. However, it's not just the media since there are many Muslims (Or is it Arabs? - Ha!) that perpetuate this myth and are confused over it themselves. I think if every Muslim in the world was doing his/her best to show that the two aren't synonymous, then the problem wouldn't exist. However, like in on so many other issues, Muslims as a whole remain their own worst enemy. Let's be part of the solution rather than part of the problem...

9:03 PM  

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