Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Dr. James Zogby speaks in Des Moines on Peace in the Middle East

By Christine Sheller

In the evening of March 13, 2019, Middle East Peace Education Coalition, based in Des Moines, hosted Dr. James Zogby.  (Taken from info in invite to event) – “Dr. James Zogby has been a strong voice for a just US policy in the Middle East for over 40 years. He has worked with several US administrations, most recently in the Obama administration on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom."
Zogby is the author of two books on the wider Middle East region including ‘Arab Voices’ and an e-book ‘Looking at Iran.’”  He came to Iowa to help mobilize peace advocates and the general public for the caucuses and campaign events going on in Iowa for the Presidential Campaign.  Candidates are visiting Iowa currently, and Zogby encouraged attenders to plan to help get the issues of the Middle East (primarily Israel and Palestine) in conversation with the candidates.  You may learn more about Zogby and his work at

Zogby shared that there has not been any debate on the Middle East in presidential campaigns since 1988.  It was after 9/11 that there was movement in a more aggressive way towards Palestine.  This was after President George W. Bush ignored a report by George Mitchell.  The sentiment in the U.S. government was that ‘we’ needed to “enforce more dominancy” in the world.  Zogby shared that that is a “weird” notion of democracy- that if you kill the bad, the good will “grow up.”  For one example, sectarian conflict was unleashed after the U.S. took down Suddam Hussein; the civil war that ensued after Hussein was gone was worse than it was before, as bad as the Suddam Hussein era was.  It also unleashed Iran.

The American military was devastated.  Alarmingly, the suicide rate for Iraqi war veterans is twenty-two every day.  That is mind-boggling, but maybe not too surprising to peace advocates who acknowledge the mental-health issues that go along with fighting and killing in the military.

Now, Zogby reminded us, they have replaced people with drones. 

“I support a two-state solution,” Zogby stated, but then wondered “if that was even possible anymore.”  He stated that in the 1970’s no one liked the idea, at the end of the 90’s it was hard to see how that would work considering the number of settlements and roads; it is impossible to imagine.  On another note, the largest employers for Palestinians include day labor in the settlements- jobs which don’t usually have a way up.

Zogby reiterated that we, as Iowans, will see the candidates- we have the opportunity to ask the tough questions.  That was his goal in coming- to mobilize.  His vision is that we could have the first real talk about the Middle East in the 2020 election.

In other areas of the Middle East, such as Yemen, and Syria- the U.S. continues to support one side. 

We don’t want to be anti-semitic.  Zogby answered a question later after his talk that he is “an equal opportunity criticizer.”  He doesn’t approve of actions of many Arab countries, as well.  The debate with the candidates needs to be driven by human values.  Again, candidates also need to see that that it is in their best interest to stop oppression of the Palestinians.

Currently, the Iowa Democratic Platform makes some statements about the Middle East.  They state that the Israelis and the Palestinians are both a people.  They state there should be compensation for Palestinians for their losses, and that there should be BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) rights in the USA.

The presentation given by Dr. Zogby was very enlightening and motivating.  There are so many issues going on in Israel/ Palestine within the struggle, that it was very moving to hear someone excited about the possibilities of 2020.

Christine Sheller is editor and coordinator at Iowa Peace Network.  She is an M.Div. graduate of Bethany Theological Seminary.

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