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Behind the Façade of Israel-Pakistan Rapprochement

Behind the Façade of Israel-Pakistan Rapprochement

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, 20 April, 2006

Ilan Pappé, the acclaimed Israeli historian, has called Israel’s much heralded withdrawal from Gaza a means for “prolonging an occupation that gets more oppressive by the day while pretending to be deeply engaged in a peace process”[1]. In the light of the developments since, most have increasingly come to the same realization; however, for the Likudniks in the US administration it has served as sufficient pretext to start pressuring Arab and Muslim states into recognizing Israel.[2] Several Arab states in the Gulf already repealed their boycotts as a result and about the same time informal contacts between Israel and Pakistan culminated in the meeting of their respective Foreign Ministers in Istanbul.

With Musharraf pressured into broaching the question of normalization for the second time in two years, the reaction at home amongst the elites and the media has been decidedly less hostile.[3] Musharraf himself has gone so far as to declare Ariel Sharon, “a bold man, a great soldier, a courageous leader”.[4]

While one can only speculate on the reasons for this radical shift in the views of the opinion makers, other attempts at manufacturing consent have been more transparent.

Enter Pakistan-Israel Peace Forum.

Pakistan-Israel Peace Forum (PIPF) claims to be a “grassroots organization”[5] but is in fact an elite network of US-based individuals with ties to prominent Zionist lobby groups and right-wing think-tanks. This veritable Astroturf [6]lobby group is striving to influence public opinion in Pakistan with the ultimate aim of obtaining the recognition of Israel. In its own words, the organization is “dedicated to promoting dialogue and establishing relations between Pakistan and Israel at the political, cultural, social and economic levels”. The organization claims to express “no partiality for any political position” however, its goals are inherently political and are meant to benefit only one side: Israel.

The Washington DC-based organization was founded by Michael Berenhaus – an American, Waleed Ziad – a Pakistani and Dror Topf – an Israeli.

Berenhaus, a staunch Zionist and a veteran pro-Israel lobbyist, set up the group and now serves on its advisory committee.[7] Berenhaus is also the founder of Eye on the Post – an organization that monitors the Washington Post[8] for its purported “anti-Israel bias”. Manifestations of perceived bias include such lapses as the paper’s reference to the West Bank as “occupied” territory.[9]

Eye on the Post's “strategic alliances” include the rightwing Zionist media watchdog groups CAMERA and Honest Reporting. Berenhaus also organized a boycott of the paper through the website.

Waleed Ziad, the Pakistani face of PIFP is the son of a World Bank official, and a principal at the Truman National Security Project (TNSP)– a think-tank that “envisions a Democratic Party that is preeminent in national security once again”. According to TNSP's founder Rachel Kleinfeld, the organization was set up “very much as a counterpart to the neoconservatives of the 1970s.”[10] Ziad has written for the New York Times, International Herald Tribune and The News. He has worked for Deloitte & Touche's International Economics Group in Washington, D.C. and as a consultant in Eastern Europe on public sector restructuring with Arthur Andersen and Ernst & Young.

A perusal of past statements by key individuals of the group is instructive in appreciating its likely motivations.

In a December 29, 2003 letter to the editor of The Seattle Times Berenhaus blames the decline in the number of Arab Christians in Bethlehem on “Palestinian Muslim violence and intimidation” [emphasis added]. Closures, month long curfews, road blocks, checkpoints and obstructed access to healthcare don’t factor in his analysis of the situation, however excluding mention of the 25-foot-high Apartheid wall is a curious oversight even for a committed Zionist propagandist.

The moving story of Ahmed Ismail Khatib[11] brought about a very different kind of reaction from Berenhaus's organization. Washington Post was excoriated for running the story of the 12 year old Palestinian boy shot by Israeli soldiers “for the second time” whose parents had donated his organs “ supposedly as a peace gesture”[emphasis added]. The reason why the paper “ran this story again, particularly on the front page” is ascribed to “the Post's long term agenda in support of Palestinian propaganda” which depicts “Israel in a brutal light” and the Palestinians “in a beneficent and peaceful light”. The Post accomplishes this by raising questions such as “Why the Palestinian children are killed?” and even adopting the “language of the terrorists”. The Post goes further in its “support for Palestinian propaganda” by describing a picture of the child “cradling a guitar”[emphasis in original] and mentioning the fact that he was “shot twice”.[12]

Waleed Ziad is a self-described “interfaith activist” and a “left wing peacenik”[13]. In an article published in the New York Times he writes: “in traditional Islamic thought the concept of violent resistance against an unjust ruler was virtually unheard of; for classical jurists, tyranny was preferable to the anarchy that accompanies revolt” [emphasis added]. He also has some words of advice for the occupiers of Iraq: “our corporations should guide local entrepreneurs to promote a free market, the backbone of democracy. If anything is going to come of the neoconservative hope of making Iraq into a beacon of our values, it will be along these lines.”[14]

Writing in the New York Times on another occasion Ziad offers advice on opening a new front in the “War on Terror”: “Permanently dislodging these extremists[sic] calls for educational, economic and cultural development” through a far cheaper program of funding “functional education” and “real economic opportunities” with “Western money”[emphasis added] so that the US is seen not as an occupier but a “purveyor of prosperity”.[15]

For a “grass roots” movement, the initiative seems to have sparked little public interest, but it has garnered the support of some key individuals in high places.

Shahid Javed Burki, a member of the group's advisory board, is the former Vice President of the World Bank and former Finance Minister of Pakistan. Writing in Dawn Burki suggests that “Pakistan should develop relations with Israel and the Jewish community in the United States and Europe” not for any “grandiose objectives”, but for the “many rewards” it would bring.[16]

Irfan Hussain, a columnist for Dawn and Khaleej Times, and a member of the group's Advisory Board, is equally forthright in advocating a policy of “enlightened self-interest”. In his view all opponents of rapprochement must necessarily belong to “religious parties” whom he faults for not presenting any "cogent reasons” beyond their “anger over the treatment the Israelis have been meting out to Palestinians under their occupation". [17].

Hussain’s honesty is matched only by his creativity as he offers a novel interpretation of history in which “many Pakistanis admired the Jewish state for its pluck and inventiveness” before 1967. The parallels between the birth of the two nations “are too obvious to dwell on” in his view as, like Pakistan, the state “was created under adversity”.[18]

Jaffer Bilgrami, another member, is a spin doctor for the Prime Minister of Pakistan and works for the Associated Press, Pakistan Television and Radio Pakistan.

The group has also managed to enlist Salman Ahmad – a prominent Pakistani musician, filmmaker and UN Goodwill Ambassador. He is the nephew of Muslims for Bush founder Seeme Gull Hassan who wanted to invade Iraq “personally”.[19]

The group’s advisory board is composed mostly of the scions of Pakistani elite and right-wing Zionists. David Yarkony, one of the board members, is a former Colonel in the Israeli Military and a bane of Israel’s critics. He declared Prof. Lev Greenberg of Ben-Gurion University an “SOB anti-Semitic Jew” for criticizing Israel’s policy of extrajudicial killings and demanded that he be “fired immediately”.[20]

Whereas PIPF is actively vying for visibility, other groups prefer operating behind the scenes. The Washington, D.C.-based Hudson Institute has spawned its own set of think-tanks with a curious mix of neoconservatives and Pakistani elites. Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani diplomat and adviser to three Prime Ministers is now the co-chair of Hudson’s Centre on Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World. The Centre was established by Hillel Fradkin, a neocon signatory to a Project for New American Century, letter to the President urging a war against Iraq, and equating the Palestinian Authority with Al-Qaeda.

Haqqani’s association with the Zionist-right is not recent. In 2004, along with Stephen Schwartz – a neocon pundit who writes for the ultra-right FrontPage Magazine, Weekly Standard and National Review – Haqqanico-founded the Institute for Islamic Progress and Peace (IIPP), tasked with the neocon project of “religion building”.[21] Their repertoire included attacks on US based Muslim advocacy groups such as the Islamic Society of North America, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim Students Association. Critics of Israel were hit with the familiar “anti-Semitism” charge. During a tour promoting IIPP, they advised members of a Jewish advocacy group and the Jewish Community Federation that “[t]he Jewish lobby has to organize, write letters, and continue to contribute to politicians to counter the Saudi lobby, which has extraordinary influence in Washington, D.C.”[22]

Like Irfan Hussain, Haqqani also feels the repression of Palestinians is insufficient reason for the continuing opposition to normalization of relations with Israel and instead ascribes it to the “anti-Semitism” that is “so deeply rooted”.[23]

Another “grassroots” organization with a dubious agenda is the Council for Democracy and Tolerance (CDT) whose president Tashbih Sayyed is an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute. The organization’s mission statement declares that “Islamists have established themselves here in US to destroy our democratic system”; with “Islamists” being a reference to mainstream Muslim groups such as CAIR and MPAC – among some of its frequent targets. On the appointment of known Islamophobe Daniel Pipes to the US Institute of Peace, on the other hand, Sayyed was moved to declare “President Bush won my heart”. He declared Pipes “a true American” and that it was “his holy obligation to warn the nation of terror and threat posed by militant Islamists and their representative organizations to destroy American peace and solidarity”.[24]

CDT runs online news sites called Pakistan Today and Muslim World Today which provide platform to the extremist views of Pipes and Morton Klein besides publishing strange tales of Islamist conspiracies to take over the world[25]. Fittingly packaged in Fox News vocabulary, the amateurish website is unlikely to draw any serious visitors, but it serves a certain purpose since it is widely cited on right-wing websites, where it is referred to as a bona fide publication.

Both Sayyed and Fradkin are represented by Benador Associates – the neocon’s publicist of choice.

Another stalwart who came to Pipes’s defence is Akbar S. Ahmad – a former diplomat and a current chair at the American University, Washington[26]. Pipes has reciprocated by putting him on top of the list of “recommended professors” on his McCarthyite Campus-Watch website.

Besides producing documentaries for the BBC and a feature film, Ahmad is known for insights such as: “Muslim reading of Clinton had much to do with their planning for September [11], bin Laden misread Bush on the basis of Clinton's behaviour.”[27]More recently, he has also jumped the rapprochement bandwagon and in an article co-written with Judea Pearl – the UCLA professor famous for comparing Robert Fisk to Bin Laden for his critical reporting on the Israel-Palestine conflict – he urges Musharraf to frame the conflict as a “clash between two legitimate national movements” and implies that it is the lack of interfaith dialogue that precludes resolution.[28]

In and of itself, it is unlikely that this endeavour will go far in shifting public opinion in favour of Israel. Israeli policies are too inhuman, and the sympathies for the Palestinians too strong. In a society as stratified as the one in Pakistan it is usually the opinion of the most privileged that carries the day. In this instance, that is precisely the constituency being targeted by these organizations. The ones listed here have access to the national media and they are already receiving sympathetic coverage. As the Palestinians endure an ever escalating process of “creeping genocide”, it is doubly imperative that all attempts to undermine their position be foiled.


Muhammad Idrees Ahmad is a researcher for Spinwatch. He can be reached at

[1] Ilan Pappé, “The Disappointing Trajectory of Amir Peretz”, London Review of Books, Vol. 27 No. 24, December 15 2005
[2]Robert Fisk, “Twisting Gulf Arms”, New Statesman, October 31, 2005
[3]Musharraf’s first attempt in 2003 at normalization was thwarted by stiff resistance at home.
[4]Interview with Pervez Musharraf, Der Spiegel, May 28, 2005
[5]Letter to the Editor, Dawn, September 28, 2005
[6] Astroturf Lobbying is a standard PR Industry practice defined by the Campaigns & Elections as a “grassroots program that involves the instant manufacturing of public support for a point of view in which either uninformed activists are recruited or means of deception are used to recruit them.”
[7]Eric Fingerhut, “‘Let's seize the day’Two twentysomethings create Pakistan-Israel Peace Forum”, Washington Jewish Week, November 17, 2005
[8] for an anlysis of WP's coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict, see Ali Abunimah and Hussein Ibish, “The US Media in the New Intifada”, in Roan Carey’s (ed.), The New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s Apartheid, (Verso, 2001), pp 233-256
[9]Eric Fingerhut, “‘Post’ Boycotters Continuing Protest Efforts”, Washington Jewish Week, June 20, 2002
[10]E. J. Kessler, “Faces Forward: Putting National Security on the Democratic Agenda”, Forward, June 3, 2005
[11] Scot Wilson, " Life and Hope Flow From Palestinian Boy's Death", Washington Post, November 12, 2005; “Palestinian's organs go to Israel”, BBC News, November 8, 2005
[12]“Post Front Page Propaganda”, Eye on the Post Media Alert, November 24, 2005
[13] Letter to, November 29, 2005
[14]Waleed Ziad, “Jihad’s Fresh Face”, New York Times, September 16, 2005
[15]Waleed Ziad, “How the Holy Warriors Learned to Hate”, New York Times, June 18, 2004
[16] Shahid Javed Burki, “Israel: Question of Recognition”, Dawn, September 13, 2005
[17]Irfan Hussain, “Facing up to Reality”, Dawn, February 12, 2005
[18]Irfan Hussain, “Rationalising Pakistan's steamy affair with Israel”, Khaleej Times, November 17, 2005
[19]Ruhi Hamid, “Muslim America: A New Identity?”, BBC News, March 14, 2005
[20]David Yarkony, Reader comment, Ma’ariv International, November 24, 2004
[21]Jim Lobe, “US: From nation-building to religion-building”, Asia Times, April 9, 2004
[22]Marilyn Karfeld, “Muslim majority is tired of extremists”, Cleveland Jewish News, February 13, 2004
[23] Aamer Ahmad Khan, “Pakistan and Israel – New Friends?”, BBC News, September 1, 2005
[24]Fatima Sayyed, “Bush Nominates Daniel Pipes to Board of US Institute of Peace”, Pakistan Today, April 15, 2003
[25]Tashbih Sayyed, “Islamist Hydra”, Pakistan Today, August 15, 2003
[26]Khalid Hasan, “Dr Akbar S Ahmed lone Muslim voice in favour of Daniel Pipes nomination”, Daily Times, July 26, 2003
[27]quoted in Ahmad Faruqui, “Book Review: Islam Under Siege”, Asia Times, June 28, 2003
[28]Judea Pearl and Akbar S. Ahmad, “A Thought of Musharraf”, Forward Forum, September 16, 2005

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