“Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula… Everything that starts with ‘Al’ in the Middle East is bad news” – these were Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina words at an AIPAC New England Leadership Dinner in Boston‘s Convention Center last night.
Senator Graham, who strongly hinted about his intentions on running for presidency, should have probably checked the dictionary before making such a comment. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Al in Arabic is simply meaning “the.” “It often prefixes Arabic proper nouns, especially place-names; an example is Al-Jazīrah (Arabic: “The Island”), the name of an interfluvial region in Sudan. The article is often used in lowercase form, hence al-Jazīrah.”, Britannica explains.
AIPAC’s dinner last night, in which Graham was the keynote speaker, drew about 1000 pro-Israel supporters, including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Israeli consulate for New England, Yehuda Yaakov, who tweeted some photos from the event.
— CG Yehuda Yaakov (@CGYehudaYaakov) May 4, 2015
According to guests who participated at the dinner, Senator Graham continued to hint about his future plans, saying “You will see me in New Hampshire.”
He also had a few interesting remarks regarding U.S. – Israel – Palestine relationship. At one point Graham said that if the Palestinians will sue one Israeli soldier who risked his life securing Israel, the US will cut all aid to Palestine. “He said that if the U.N will cooperate with the Palestinians and push things through the security council the US will withdraw from giving money to the U.N,” recalled one of the participants.
A call for comment was made this afternoon to Senator Graham’s Washington D.C. office. So far no response from the Senator arrived.
Update (05/05/05, 17:50)
Graham’s spokesman, Kevin Bishop, spoke with Elahe Izadi from the Washington Post about Graham’s remarks that were exposed here earlier today. Here is what she wrote about her conversation with him: “Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop wasn’t present at the dinner, but he said the al-being-bad-news line is a joke that’s part of Graham’s regular stump speech and one that he’s told for many years. “It’s not a serious policy statement,” Bishop said, adding that it’s a “humorous way” to look at pressing issues. And the South Carolina senator often gets laughs when he tells it, too. But what of the fact that “al” is sort of like “the” in Arabic? “He’s not making a statement on Arabic. He’s not making a statement on language,” Bishop said.
Update (05/06/15 11:00)
Nathan Odenheimer, an Israeli student at Brandies University, attended AIPAC’s dinner. He was shocked by Graham’s comments, so he approached him with a friend to comment about it. This is what happened afterwards, as described by him in a Facebook post: “An Israeli friend of mine who proudly carries an Arabic surname with the allegedly shameful prefix walked up to the Senator and tried to politely and respectfully clarify to the Middle-East-illiterate politician the meaning of his poor comment. My friend brought himself as an example: “My own name starts with ‘Al'”. Graham tried to dodge the situation with a joke and replied, “Well, I guess there is one exception then…” I meant to remain the uninvolved spectator I was all evening, but couldn’t maintain myself facing this utter nonsense and despite of myself interrupted: “No Mr. Senator, it is not about an exception, you made an offensive statement that shows ignorance” and elaborated that, what every person who has the slightest interest in the Middle East knows, that in Arabic ‘Al’ usually means “the”. The Senator did not exactly stand corrected; instead he awkwardly diverged to compare Iran to Nazi Germany and the US deal with Iran to a second Holocaust. I don’t frequent these sort of events often, but it is still beyond me why AIPAC should invite a speaker who is unapologetically islamophob and racist, especially since so many Israelis come from Arab countries, like my mentioned above friend, carry a surname that is, according to the senator, ‘bad news.'”
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