Fundamentally Freund: The company America keeps

Sadly, Kuwait is just one example of how Washington’s narrow economic interests seem to shunt aside basic issues such as freedom, decency and human dignity.

By
February 9, 2015 23:09
4 minute read.
Former president Barack Obama holds a meeting with Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah, the emir

Former president Barack Obama holds a meeting with Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah, the emir of Kuwait, September 13, 2013. (photo credit: OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO / PETE SOUZA)

 
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A seemingly minor incident at a New York airport has cast an ugly glare on the true nature of some of America’s so-called moderate Arab allies, raising serious questions about the type of company that Washington chooses to keep.

Last Friday, the New York Daily News broke the story of Iris Eliazarov, a 26-year-old pregnant mother of four, who was prevented by Kuwait Airways from boarding a flight from JFK Airport to London because she is an Israeli citizen.

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Her husband, an American, was allowed on the flight, but when Eliazarov, who has a green card, took out her Israeli passport, airline officials would not permit her on the plane. She was forced to buy a ticket on a different flight.

The episode, which took place on November 1, came to light after Eliazarov filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing the Kuwaitis of discrimination.

Likening herself to Rosa Parks, the US black civil rights activist who launched the struggle against segregation on public transportation in 1955, Eliazarov said she was taking a “principled stand,” while her husband, David Nektalov, told the paper, “I didn’t think discrimination like this could exist in America, in JFK (Airport), in New York City.”

“If they want to operate here, they have to obey our laws,” he insisted.

But the US government apparently disagrees, as it resolutely turns a blind eye toward Kuwait’s scurrilous behavior and dubious record on human rights.

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Just last month, for example, the Kuwaiti regime arrested a former member of parliament, Saleh al-Mulla, for “insulting” the country’s emir in a tweet.

In a separate incident, former Kuwaiti information minister Saad al-Ajmi was sentenced to prison for publishing an article about government corruption in a pro-opposition electronic newsletter.

And on January 29, a Kuwaiti appeals court sent Abdulaziz al-Mutairi to prison for five years for offending the country’s ruler.

According to human rights groups, Kuwait has also been stripping domestic critics of their citizenship to punish them for their criticism of the government. The move, which leaves them effectively stateless, is not subject to appeal.

Needless to say, anyone visiting the website of the US embassy in Kuwait would be hard-pressed to realize that such concerns exist. The words “human rights” or “freedom of speech” are nowhere to be found on the homepage, except for a single link on a pull-down menu.

And in their public remarks, American officials speak unashamedly of their “pride in our strong and multifaceted partnership with Kuwait,” commending the country for its “leadership” and heaping praise on “the bonds between Americans and Kuwaitis.”

What they fail to mention, of course, is Kuwait’s continued hostility toward Israel, America’s closest ally in the region, and its refusal to countenance being in the same room – or on the same airplane – with Israelis.

In January 2014, Kuwait chose to boycott the International Renewable Energy Agency’s Fourth Assembly in Abu Dhabi simply because an Israeli delegation was slated to be present.

In a press statement, Kuwait’s Electricity and Water Ministry said that, “The decision comes in line with Kuwait’s commitment to boycott all forms of interaction with the Zionist regime.”

Likewise, Kuwait continues to enforce the Arab League boycott against the Jewish state. In October of last year, the Kuwaiti government announced that it would be blacklisting some 50 companies, including Volvo, for their commercial activities in Israel.

Also on the list was the French firm Veolia, which was barred by Kuwait City from taking part in any future projects because of its involvement with the Jerusalem light rail.

American firms doing business with Israel have also encountered problems with Kuwait. On December 9, 2014, the US Treasury Department published a list of countries which “require or may require participation in, or cooperation with, an international boycott” in contravention of US law, and Kuwait is one of them.

The Kuwaitis apparently have short memories, because it was just 24 years ago that American troops liberated the country after Saddam Hussein’s invasion and occupation.

But that hasn’t stopped the tiny desert kingdom and its unelected monarch from spitting on the basic values and freedoms that Washington stands for.

Kuwait is a corrupt kleptocracy which has been at the forefront of raising funds for terrorist groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaida affiliates, and it is time for America to stop treating them with kid gloves.

As a report in the UK’s Daily Telegraph (September 6, 2014) revealed, “Throughout 2013 and the earlier part of this year, on TV stations, websites and social media in Kuwait and Qatar, the jihadis openly solicited money for weapons and troops.”

An outfit called the Kuwait Scholars’ Union organized a major fundraising drive, the “Great Kuwait Campaign,” which raised “several million dollars for anti-aircraft missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and fighters. Some of the money went to IS and some to the al-Qaida front Jabhat al-Nusra.”

And Kuwait’s government even appointed Nayef al-Ajmi, who appeared on fundraising posters for an al-Qaida group, as its justice minister.

Is this really the kind of country worthy of American friendship and amity? Sadly, Kuwait is just one example of how Washington’s narrow economic interests seem to shunt aside basic issues such as freedom, decency and human dignity.

As a young man back in 1744, George Washington hand-copied the text of a book, Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, in the hopes of training himself to be a gentleman. Rule number 56 was: “Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ‘tis better to be alone than in bad company.”

Here’s hoping that the men who inhabit today’s Washington will relearn that important lesson.

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