In his piece in The Washington Post’s “On Faith” column last Wednesday, Aseem Shukla, co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), begins with the following:
Watching events unfold in the Middle East, I lose the hyphen in Hindu-American here and comment only as an American. I do not represent the Hindu American Foundation here, but represent the views of one stunned by the existential challenges in the Middle East (On Faith).
He then questions the motives of the flotilla organizers, characterizing it as a political stunt rather than a genuine humanitarian effort (why are the two mutually exclusive?).
The flotillas insist on direct access to land controlled by the same Hamas thugs that are committed to destroying Israel and have purposefully launched thousands of rockets at Israel. These seaborne do-gooders could easily unload their supplies in Israel and have them transported to Gaza if their concerns were only humanitarian. But theirs were political, and they chose to protest, provoke and, yes, in a few cases, covet the perverse martyrdom of the extremist.
The problem with Mr. Shukla’s article, and the reason I find it disingenuous, is that though he claims to lose his hyphen, his argument fits neatly within the political framework of HAF.
Since its inception, HAF has allied itself with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby,” working simultaneously to advocate for a stronger India-Israel-US relationship and to mark “common values” shared by the Jewish and Hindu communities.
From HAF’s first interfaith press release, 5/19/2004:
The leadership of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) (www.hinduamericanfoundation.org) interacted with several Jewish leaders from across the United States during the Annual Policy Conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington, D.C., May 16-18, 2004 (www.aipac.org). HAF, the only Hindu organization present at the annual conference attended by the most prominent U.S. elected officials including President George W. Bush, represented Hindu Americans during discussions that followed a breakout session devoted to United States-India-Israel relations (HAF).
From their second interfaith press release, 10/20/2004:
Addressing a meeting of the Board of Directors of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) on September 20, 2004, Mihir Meghani, M.D., President, Hindu American Foundation (HAF) (www.hinduamericanfoundation.org), highlighted the common values shared by the two communities and stressed the need for Hindus and Jews to work together to promote understanding, tolerance, and pluralism.
“Both communities are inspired by more than 5000-year-old heritages,” said Dr. Meghani in his address. “Family values, tolerance and acceptance of other religions, cultures, and customs are defining characteristics of the two,” he added (HAF).
Given this, it’s hardly surprising that there isn’t criticism to be found of the Israeli government on the pages of HAF site. Now mind, HAF doesn’t give a pass to just any state combating terrorism.
HAF has repeatedly condemned what it considers a disproportionate Sri Lankan response on the civilian ethnic Tamil population in its annual Hindu human rights report…
HAF has condemned both the Sri Lankan army as well as the LTTE for the violence, for the loss and displacement of innocent civilians, and the destruction of Hindu temples and other places of worship. HAF believes there can be no military solution to the problem and the conflict should be settled through a durable political solution.
Yet there’s no such nuanced statement that I could find about the Israel-Palestine conflict. I suppose it could be argued that HAF wouldn’t comment or issue a press release on Israel-Palestine since it doesn’t involve Hindus; however, given HAF’s alliance with American lobbies that support the actions of the Israeli government, is it unfair to assume that the omission of such a statement or press release is an endorsement of the Israeli state’s actions? If such an omission isn’t political, then what is it?
Mr. Shukla’s narrative of the conflict would have us believe that a mere wall is all that protects Israel from certain destruction, completely ignoring the disproportionate means of violence at Israel’s disposal.
Please note that I’m not taking issue with Mr. Shukla’s characterization of Hamas as anti-democratic and dissent-quashing. I agree that its attacks on Israel must be stopped and that it must accept Israel’s existence. But his kid-gloved treatment of Israel and its role in the conflict fits so conveniently into the larger political agenda of HAF that I don’t see how he can claim some sort of objectivity by losing his hyphen in writing this piece.