Fikra: An Israeli Forum for Arab Democrats

A surreptitious WINEP project is pushing cataclysmic regime change in Syria

By Maidhc Ó Cathail
The Passionate Attachment
February 21, 2012

On February 10, subscribers to Fikra Forum’s mailing list received a bilingual (English and Arabic) letter from director David Pollock informing them:

In reaction to last week’s exclusive Fikra Forum report, Inside the Syrian Army by Ilhan Tanir, contributor Josef Olmert and I present analysis on how the U.S. and the international community should support the FSA [Free Syrian Army].

Five days later, Fikra Forum subscribers received another email with the subject title, “Leading Syrian Activist Calls for International Intervention.” In his introductory note, Pollock explained:

As the international community struggles to halt the Syrian regime’s brutal assault on its people, Fikra Forum would like to share our newest piece by Radwan Ziadeh, an official with the Syrian National Council and executive director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies. Ziadeh calls for intervention, urging the international community to form a coalition that legitimizes the SNC as the unified representative of the Syrian opposition and acknowledges the council’s plan for the future of Syria.

At the bottom of both Fikra Forum emails was the following address:

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy | 1828 L STREET NW | SUITE 1050 | WASHINGTON | DC | 20036 | US

However, if one were to visit the Fikra Forum website, one might get the impression that the “online community that aims to generate ideas to support Arab democrats in their struggle with authoritarians and extremists” was trying to hide its association with The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the think tank created by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to “do AIPAC’s work but appear independent.” In its remarkably vague “About Us” section, the only clue to its affiliation with “the think tank AIPAC built” is this acknowledgement:

Fikra Forum is grateful to the Nathan and Esther K. Wagner Family Foundation for their contribution to the launch of Fikra Forum in the memory of Steven Croft, who during his life believed passionately in the power of ideas to transform lives.

Steven Croft’s February 20, 2009 Death Notice in the Chicago Tribune tells us a little more about those passionate beliefs:

He was also philanthropically involved in local, national and international organizations including the Arthritis Foundation, AIPAC, Israel Bonds and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Notwithstanding the apparent overlap, WINEP also appears to be coy about its relationship with Fikra Forum. Despite the fact that David Pollock is the Kaufman fellow at The Washington Institute, “focusing on the political dynamics of Middle Eastern countries,” there appears to be no mention there of the “unique online community” he directs “with the goal of generating ideas to produce a brighter future for Arab democrats.”

By an amazing coincidence, WINEP has its own “Fikra” (Arabic for “Idea”), which it describes as “a multiyear program of research, publication, and network-building designed to generate policy ideas for promoting positive change and countering the spread of extremism in the Middle East.” According to the Israel lobby-created think tank, its Project Fikra is:

A bold effort to counter the spread of extremism in the Middle East, the program seeks to inject creativity and new thinking into America’s engagement with youths, media, educators, and other key actors struggling for openness and tolerance in Arab and Muslim societies.

Among “the talents of Washington Institute scholars and associates” that Project Fikra brings together is David Pollock, whom it describes as “an expert on Middle Eastern public opinion and polling who worked as a leader on regional democratization and women’s rights.”

Apart from Pollock, a substantial number of Fikra Forum contributors are current or former WINEP fellows, including Ahmed Ali, Jon Alterman, Hassan Barari, Soner Cagaptay, J. Scott Carpenter, Steven Cook, Andrew Engel, Daniel Green, Dina Guirguis, Simon Henderson, David Makovsky, Joshua Muravchik, Magnus Norell, Michael Rubin, Robert Satloff, David Schenker, Michael Singh, Andrew Tabler, Eric Trager, and Margaret Weiss.

The rest of the contributors are from other pro-Israel think tanks, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the American Enterprise Institute; Soros-funded groups such as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, and the Center for American Progress; various “democracy-promotion” organizations led by the National Endowment for Democracy and its affiliates; and an abundance of pro-democracy activists, bloggers and journalists they “helped nurture,” fomenting the wave of uprisings known as the “Arab Spring.”

While Pollock and many of the other Fikra contributors work for Israel’s U.S. lobby, perhaps the most interesting contributor to an online forum supposedly dedicated to Arab democracy is the aforementioned Josef Olmert. Although his Fikra Forum profile does acknowledge that the Israeli analyst was a director of the Government Press Office and advisor to former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and later served as policy advisor to former Defense Minister Moshe Arens, it emphasizes his role as a “peace negotiator.” Fikra Forum readers are not informed, however, that Dr. Olmert is the brother of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or that both of their parents belonged to the terrorist Irgun organization.

Although Josef Olmert predicted elsewhere a “chaotic transition” in which “the violence that will unfold in Syria will dwarf everything that we have witnessed until now,” he assures Fikra Forum readers that “all support that could enable the FSA to continue and intensify its operations, alongside the continuing popular resistance, will help shorten the days of the dictatorship and save the lives of many innocent Syrians.”

UPDATE: A link to Fikra Forum is now displayed on WINEP’s home page.

Maidhc Ó Cathail has written extensively on Israel’s push for regime change in Syria.


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13 responses to “Fikra: An Israeli Forum for Arab Democrats

  1. niqnaq

    Nifty. Needs some live links for the curious to click. I often post articles first and then hunt for links to insert in them later.

  2. Yes, I have them. Just need to add them here.

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  4. Mike needs to know the bogus “window into Palestine” website is racist/zionist and a waste of time to write to and read!!!

    maryam fritsch

  5. I don’t understand the relevance of your comment, Maryam. I don’t read that website.

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