Farrakhan and the Middle East
Jude Wanniski
May 23, 2001


Memo To: Sen. Joseph Lieberman [D CT]
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: A Religious Issue

During last year’s presidential campaign, you surprised me and the rest of the political world by saying you would be prepared to meet with Minister Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, a man the American Jewish community has vilified for more than 15 years as an anti-Semitic bigot. As an orthodox Jew who practices his faith, you broke with the secularized Jews of the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee who had resisted every effort at reconciliation by Minister Farrakhan over this stretch of 15 years. They said they would never meet with him until he had apologized for his behavior over the years, to which he replied that he would apologize for anything he said that they could show was in error. On the contrary, you said you would meet with him without preconditions, that Jewish friends of yours had privately assured you that he was not the terrible man he has been portrayed as being. As a Catholic and a friend of Min. Farrakhan who believes he is a good and religious man, I was heartened by your statements and was saddened when your Republican opponent in the campaign, vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney, said he would not even contemplate such a meeting.

The meeting never took place, although I saw you did meet with Leonard Muhammad, the Nation of Islam Chief-of-Staff and Min. Farrakhan’s son-in-law, and a photograph of you shaking his hand appeared in the NOI’s weekly newspaper, The Final Call. The fact that Min. Farrakhan is "the most trusted black leader" in America, according to a poll of black Americans in February of this year, helps explain why your show of respect for him contributed to the black community’s support for the Democratic ticket last November. The reason for this note, Senator, is to suggest that now is a good time for you to have that meeting with Min. Farrakhan, as he is also the most respected American Muslim in the Islamic world of more than 1 billion people. Warmly regarded and well known by Islamic religious leaders throughout the world, Minister Farrakhan also is trusted by them, seen first and foremost as an Islamic religious leader in the U.S.

The violence in the Middle East has escalated to a point where the Bush administration now has decided it must involve itself directly to prevent further escalation and wider war. It has been my belief for several years that while such initiatives could help close the political gap between the Israelis and the Palestinians, a religious gap would remain, which would have to be closed by religious leaders. This, after all, is the Holy Land we are talking about, and the passions that have prevented resolution of the differences there cannot be reconciled by secular authorities.

There is no finer American analyst of the political scene in the Middle East than Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times. In his "Foreign Affairs" column Tuesday -- "It Only Gets Worse" – Friedman argues that the problem comes down to the fact that Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, was incapable to closing the deal he was offered last year by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David, which would have given the Palestinians control of 94 to 96% of the West Bank and Gaza. The plain fact is that Arafat is the agent of the Islamic world, where there are no "secularized Muslims," and that world would not permit Arafat to even extend a final offer that Barak might have been able to accept. Friedman writes:

The real problem is that the Palestinians are leaderless today, and that is what the U.S., the U.N., and the Arab world have to face up to. Deep down they all know it and they admit it to each other in private. There is no Palestinian leader right now willing or able to say yes to a fair historic compromise, and we simply fool ourselves with commissions that do not acknowledge that. Unless the Arabs can stiffen Arafat by supporting him in any grand compromise, or by creating a context in which an alternative leadership can emerge, the bonfire will rage on and it will consume many, many others.

My idea, Senator, is that in this unipolar world, the United States sits alone atop the world power pyramid, and here, the most important American Muslim is Louis Farrakhan, known and respected throughout the Islamic world. When Iranian authorities last year convicted several Iranian Jews of espionage for Israel, it was Min. Farrakhan who was asked by a group of American rabbis to intervene in Tehran on their behalf. As ill as he was with the lingering effects of his cancer surgery, Min. Farrakhan last September flew to New York from Chicago to meet with the president of Iran to make that appeal, which resulted in the lightening of the sentences on the convicted men. That story was not told in the American press although I alerted several prominent journalists to it, because our press corps has been so intimidated by the idea that Louis Farrakhan is equated to Adolf Hitler, which is how he was cast in 1984 by the Anti-Defamation League. While Min. Farrakhan is nevertheless America’s primary Muslim leader, you are America’s primary Jewish political leader, by virtue of your vice presidential candidacy last year and the prospects for a potential presidential run in 2004.

It strikes me that this combination of Lieberman and Farrakhan, as improbable as it might seem, may provide the means by which the religious gap between Palestinian Arab and Israeli Jew can be bridged. Tom Friedman’s point about the need for the Arab world to stiffen Arafat in a compromise is absolutely correct, I think, and it is difficult to see how this might be brought about unless Min. Farrakhan explores the possibilities that were not available to the political emissaries sent to the Middle East by President Clinton last year or will be available to President Bush’s emissary. In this Holy Land conflict, it will take holy men, Christian, Muslim and Jew, to provide the seal. You can start that process, Senator, with a phone call to Chicago.