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Arab Dissidents’ Strange Bedfellows

If it’s true that, as Shakespeare famously put it, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows,” then pro-democracy Arab dissidents must be very miserable indeed.

CyberDissidents.org is a project created in 2008 by the Jerusalem-based Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies “to research and focus attention on the online activities of democracy advocates and dissidents in the Middle East, in the hope of empowering them at home and raising awareness of their plight abroad.” Until its demise in 2009, the Adelson Institute was located at the Shalem Center, a controversial research institute associated with right wing Zionist causes. Founded in 1994, the Shalem Center was initially funded by its current chairman, Ronald Lauder, heir to the Estée Lauder cosmetics fortune. Lauder is also president of the Jewish National Fund, which promotes ethnic cleansing through planting forests on expropriated Palestinian land. The Adelson Institute was set up in 2007 with a $4.5 million grant from Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who, like Lauder, is a patron and confidante of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Under the direction of Natan Sharansky, the former Israeli minister who resigned his cabinet seat in 2005 in protest over Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan, the institute held a “Democracy and Security” conference in Prague in 2007. It brought together Israeli officials; their American neoconservative sympathizers with their favorite Middle Eastern dissidents in tow—most notably, Richard Perle’s Israel-admiring Syrian protégé Farid Ghadry; and the newly-installed Eastern European democrats swept to power in the wake of a wave of neocon-backedcolor revolutions,” the latter group presumably serving to inspire the Arab and Iranian participants to emulate them.

One year later, Sharansky’s activist coordinator of democracy programs at the Adelson Institute, David Keyes, co-founded CyberDissidents.org and has served since then as its director. During his visit to the United States in 2009 to present the organization’s mission and progress to pro-Israeli policy-makers, activists and press, Keyes spent “significant time” with ardent Zionist academic Bernard Lewis, an advisory board member to the group during the first two years of its existence. Among his more notable contributions to the Arab world, Lewis introduced the concept of a “Clash of Civilizations” between Islam and Christendom, advocated the “Lebanonization” of the region, and was “perhaps the most significant intellectual influence behind the invasion of Iraq.”

Seemingly undeterred by its Israeli origins, prominent Middle Eastern pro-democracy activists have been recruited by the Adelson Institute’s project for Internet activists. On its advisory board are Egyptian dissident Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the founder of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies and the Arab Organization for Human Rights and a board member of the Arab Democracy Foundation, who participated in the Prague conference; and Samer Abu Libdeh, the director of the Interaction Forum, an Amman-based civil society and democracy-promotion organization, and a senior fellow at the Center for Liberty in the Middle East (CLIME). Abu Libdeh also served as a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a think tank created by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

On its website, CyberDissidents.org features provocative articles such as the one entitled “Shocking Videos, Photos, and Tweets from Syria,” which includes amateur videos, digital photographs and tweets from Daraa. It first appeared on The Daily Beast website, where David Keyes also blogs about the human rights abuses of practically every Middle Eastern regime, except the one occupying Palestine. Considering The Daily Beast’s insatiable appetite for Arab freedom, it’s worth noting that its creator Barry Diller, who also launched the Fox TV network, attended a 1983 Manhattan conclave convened to coordinate pro-Israeli political operations in the United States. Incidentally, fellow participant Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief emeritus of The New Republic, not noted for his love of Arabs, lambasted President Obama’s insufficiently enthusiastic support of the Libyan rebels as a “betrayal of the Arab revolution, of an Arab people and of Arab hope.”

Last April, David Keyes attended an event entitled “Cyber-Dissidents and Political Change” sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute. “Inspired by President and Mrs. Bush’s unwavering commitment to freedom for all people,” its website states, “the Bush Institute works to embolden dissidents and freedom advocates, creating a powerful network for moral support and education.” Keyes was one of the featured guests on a TV programme presented by the institute’s executive director, Jim Glassman, who as Bush’s Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy brought dissidents from around the world to New York for the inaugural Alliance of Youth Movements summit in 2008. The other guests were Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty president Jeffrey Gedmin, formerly a resident scholar at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and a Project for a New American Century founding signatory; Christopher Walker, director of studies at Freedom House, home to indefatigable pro-Israel democracy promoters like Max Kampelman, Paula Dobriansky and Joshua Muravchik; and former Ha’aretz journalist Bari Weiss, The Wall Street Journal’s assistant editorial features editor with a soft spot for the world’s non-Palestinian dissidents.

Dissidents who put their faith in such improbable champions of Arab freedom would do well to remember the words of Sheldon Adelson. Referring to a conversation he had with Iranian dissident Amir Abbas Fakhravar at the Prague conference, the Likudnik casino magnate reportedly said, “I like Fakhravar because he says that, if we attack, the Iranian people will be ecstatic.” But when another Iranian pro-democracy activist disputed that assumption, Adelson candidly responded, “I really don’t care what happens to Iran. I am for Israel.”


About the Author

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Maidhc Ó Cathail writes extensively on U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East. He also edits The Passionate Attachment blog (http://thepassionateattachment.com/).