By: Matthew E. Berger
August 25, 2003
WASHINGTON, Aug. 25 (JTA) — Jewish and Arab leaders say President Bush?s
appointment of Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes to a federal think tank
— despite the objections of Arab groups and some congressional Democrats
— offers a window into White House policy on Middle East issues.
Bush?s Aug. 22 appointment of Pipes, director of the Philadelphia-based
Middle East Forum, to the board of directors of the U.S. Institute of
Peace comes after Arab American and Muslim groups waged a strong battle
against his Senate confirmation. They called Pipes an “Islamaphobe” who
made bigoted comments against Arabs and Muslims.
The USIP was founded by Congress in 1984 to create programs and
fellowships that foster peace and non- violent conflict resolution. The
organization frequently sponsors lectures in Washington on international
conflicts. Its board is appointed by the president and confirmed by the
Jewish groups were gearing up to back Pipes in the Senate, saying they
rely on his insight and scholarship on militant Islam. In the end,
however, no heavy lifting was required.
Instead, Bush placed Pipes on the board through a recess appointment,
allowing him to serve without confirmation until the end of the
congressional term in January 2005.
Jewish leaders say the move shows the White House?s commitment to
combating the threat radical Islam poses to the United States and its
allies. Pipes had warned of the danger of militant Islam long before
Sept. 11, and criticized many scholars in his field who he said had
become apologists for Islamic militancy.
Arab leaders, however, say the appointment shows that some White House
officials hold the same “right wing” views on Middle East issues as
Pipes. Specifically, they point to Elliott Abrams, a senior official on
Middle East affairs at the National Security Council, who they say has a
track record of public comments that put his positions in line with
Pipes was nominated for the post in April but his confirmation was
postponed last month by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Committee after several lawmakers, including Sen. Edward Kennedy
(D-Mass.), voiced opposition to it.
“It certainly reached a level of attention and publicity that surprised
me,” Pipes told JTA on Monday. Major newspaper editorials came out for
and against the nominee.
Pipes said he was told the White House decided to use a recess
appointment because of its eagerness to fill the institute?s board, not
because of concerns over Pipes? ultimate confirmation.
Pipes said Kennedy and others misunderstood the writing and work he has
done for more than 25 years, at times taking his comments out of context
and at other times distorting them.
Arab groups claimed Pipes had said that Muslims do not follow proper
hygiene, but Pipes said he was simply describing the way Europeans look
Also, he said many of the comments he has made about radical Islam often
are mistaken as accusations against the Muslim religion in general.
“I?m making a fairly complex and novel argument about the differences
between religious Islam and radical Islam,” he said. “It?s an important
argument that needs to be made.”
Pipes said he will expand on his rationale for the objections to his
nomination in a column for the New York Post.
Hussein Ibish, communications director of the American-Arab
Anti-Discrimination Committee, said Pipes is prevaricating when he says
that he is trying to distinguish between Islam per se and terrorist
actions linked to militant Islam.
“He defaults to putting everyone in an Islamist militant category,”
Ibish said. “You have to basically agree with his pro-Likud stance to
not be considered a militant Muslim.”
Several Jewish groups quickly praised Pipes? nomination, including the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Conference of
Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The Anti-Defamation
League said Pipes had an “important approach and perspective to the
challenges facing the U.S. in the post-9/11 world.”
The nomination of Pipes, a frequent lecturer to Jewish audiences, was
being watched in the American Jewish community. Jewish officials said
they would have backed Pipes vocally if a fight over his nomination had
erupted on the Senate floor.
Instead, the community decided to stay silent so as not to derail a
process that was moving in Pipes? favor. Meanwhile, many Arab leaders
voiced their opposition.
When word of Pipes? impending recess appointment became public earlier
this month, close to a dozen Muslim and interfaith groups spoke out
against him and led a phone campaign to the White House against the
Ibish said Arab and Muslim groups consider the fact that Pipes?
nomination required a “backdoor” appointment a victory for their cause.
“It?s an important political statement that the White House had to do it
this way,” he said.
Pipes said his writings have been more closely scrutinized in the past
five months and that he has learned to be more cautious.
“I?ve learned to be careful to make sure things I say cannot be taken
out of context,” he said. “It is the lesson of increased attention that
I hope I have profited from.”