Corporate America Shies Away from Arab American Initiatives
By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer
Much of corporate America has declined to actively support Arab American Heritage Month, mostly due to reactions from pro-Israel advocates. GEICO insurance is one firm that agreed, then disagreed to sponsor the initiative. Ben and Jerry’s ice cream company faced harsh pushback from Israeli supporters when they curtailed their ice cream production and sales in occupied Palestine and Israel. Finally, we see how official U.S. policy is actively pro-Israel, and therefore, it impacts corporate sponsorship of National Arab American Heritage Month and other Arab American events and also makes corporations and huge communities and institutions, and mainstream America hostile to Arab Americans.
Corporate support for Arab American causes – half-hearted or just plain “NOT!”
Especially since the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, Arab Americans have been targeted as objects of disdain and even hatred. First, a small minority of the American population who were predisposed to discriminate against Arabs and Muslims in the first place. Second, politicians who believe they could gain votes by lumping Arab Americans with the attackers.
Third, at least two U.S. presidents’ administrations directed policies detrimental to Muslims of many different national origins. Then, fourth, and perhaps more surprisingly, corporate America, which has been less than receptive to lending their names to Arab American causes.
Some Arab American organizations have experienced some success in gaining corporate sponsorship for their initiatives, particularly in Dearborn Michigan. Their support came from Ford Motor Company, which has been hiring Arab immigrants and generations of their descendants, dating to the early 20th century. Support from a local Michigan outlet of Walmart was successful but short-lived.
The insurance company GEICO was scheduled to host an event celebrating the Month of April then it decided to withdraw its support. GEICO withdrew from this event following a reaction from pro-Israel and Zionist Jewish groups, who denounced one participant as antisemitic.
The issue surrounding GEICO’s withdrawal is because of the participation of a civil rights advocate, Palestinian American Muslim from Brooklyn, Linda Sarsour who was. has been maligned for years by pro-Israel-Zionists, who direct their insecurities and hatred against Arabs and Muslims generally, especially Palestinians that are seen as the last barrier to the dream of an Ersatz Israel, Greater Israel, which is a biblical and political expression of land—last controlled by the Kingdom of David 1,000 years B.C., 3,000+ years ago!
Responding to GEICO’s cancellation of the celebratory event of Arab Heritage Month, The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) hosted an interfaith coalition of over 60 civil and human rights organizations. CAIR’s message to GEICO demanded that the company “must immediately delete its false, defamatory, and unacceptable attack on Linda Sarsour, who has vocally advocated for justice for all people and repeatedly fought against Islamophobia, antisemitism, xenophobia, and all other forms of hatred.”
In reinforcing its statement, CAIR continued, “GEICO’s defamatory attack on Linda Sarsour is an attack on all Americans who dare to criticize the Israeli government and other human rights violators. If GEICO refuses to delete its hateful post and apologize for canceling its Arab American Heritage Month event, everyone who supports human rights for all people should avoid collaborating with this company or insuring with this company.” Strong words.
…And then it was about ice cream—Ben & Jerry’s
The Ben & Jerry’s (BJ) was not a matter of sponsorship of an Arab American event, rather, it was a matter of the harsh pushback by the Israeli supporters for the company’s announcement that it would not renew its licensing agreement in Israel when it expires at the end of 2022. The board did so because of the unjust treatment of the Palestinians. That meant that the company would no longer make or sell its iconic ice cream in Israel or its “illegal settlements.” While complicated by BJ’s relationship with its new parent company, Unilever, the original owners have an independent board with the authority to decide on the brand’s social mission.
BJ’s stand is that: “Israel treats its illegal settlements as part and parcel of the state and codifies this into law. Israel’s apartheid system is clearly reflected in the racist Nation-State Law, which denies indigenous Palestinians their right to self-determination.” In short, its view is that Israel denies Palestinians their rights, it requires that they live under “blockade, occupation, and apartheid.” BJ avers that “No company should profit off apartheid and settler-colonialism.”
Ben & Jerry’s pro-Palestinian initiative is part of a broader movement, The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), a Palestinian-led movement promoting boycotts, divestments, and economic sanctions against Israel. Its objective is to pressure Israel to meet what the BDS movement describes as Israel’s obligations under international law, defined as “withdrawal from the occupied territories, removal of the separation barrier in the West Bank, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties.
And there’s more—negative stereotypes of Arabs abound in American culture
Jack Shaheen, now deceased, an Arab American expert on American perceptions of the Arab people, has told the story of Arab Americans with clarity and verve. In his famous essay, “The Arab Image,” he gets right to the point of anti-Arab discrimination. Writing about how Arabs are presented in films, he noted, “Beginning in 1896, Hollywood began saturating world viewers with hideous feature films which portrayed Arab Muslims and their descendants as sub-humans – sand niggers, lecherous sheiks, and terrorists.”
In the post–September 11 America, Shaheen was asked by friends if the 9/11 attacks represented a setback for him. He knew it would be hard to explain the issue of how Arabs are vilified in films in the context of the Arab attacks on New York and Washington D.C. Shaheen declared that “No, what are you talking about? Not to make an effort to cease this unending barrage of images of hate would mean that I have allowed this lunatic fringe to prevent me and my colleagues from helping to bring people together.”
And, finally, since official U.S. policy is actively pro-Israel, Arab Americans often suffer for supporting Arab and Palestinian causes
“Washington’s unwavering support for Israel is rooted in the aftermath of World War II, the Cold War, pro-Israeli political influence, and PR heft.” That is Al-Jazeera’s cut. Taking a slightly different angle, The Council on Foreign Relations suggests, “The United States has long tried to negotiate a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but several factors including deep divisions between and within the parties and declining U.S. interest in carrying out its traditional honest-broker role, hurt the chances of a peace deal.”
What is often left out of the pro-Israel narrative is that Israel has an overwhelming advantage over the Palestinians—in terms of its military competence and its deep pockets. The U.S. has long searched for an end to the struggle that would emerge in a two-state solution. However, Israel has gobbled up so much of the Palestinian occupied territory, that that solution has become impracticable. Furthermore, under the regime of former President Trump, the very idea of any Palestinian state whatsoever was eliminated.
U.S. policy towards Israel is heavily biased. Directly or by innuendo, it places Palestinians and their Arab American supporters in a negative light. Other Americans, who may not get that Palestinians have their rights too, mostly take the side of Israel. And that’s where the antisemitism label comes into play. Until American corporations, the Federal Government, and average Americans learn the difference between the terms “antisemitism” and “antizionism,” Arab Americans will bear the brunt of misguided labeling.
“60+ Civil & Human Rights Groups Condemn GEICO for Canceling Arab American Heritage Month Event, Attacking Activist Linda Sarsour,” The Council on American-Islamic Relations, 4/8/2022
“Where We Stand on Ben & Jerry’s,” Palestinian BDS National Committee, 8/17/2021
“The Arab Image,” Jack G. Shaheen, posted in Foreign Bookmark the Permalink, 10/11/2002
“Some US Muslims identify less as Americans due to negative media coverage,” University of Michigan, 3/20/2019
“Why is the US unequivocal in its support for Israel?” Al-Jazeera, 5/18/2021
“What Is U.S. Policy on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?” Council on Foreign Relations, 5/27/2021
John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.
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