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Lautenberg Accused of Anti-Arab Racism

Thursday, March 02, 2006
BY ROBERT COHEN
**STAR-LEDGER WASHINGTON BUREAU**
WASHINGTON — An Arab-American civil rights group yesterday accused Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) of making racist comments about Arabs during a New Jersey rally this week when he condemned the takeover of U.S. port operations by an United Arab Emirates-owned company.
Lautenberg denied the accusation, calling it a “bum rap.”
At a Port Newark rally on Monday, Lautenberg raised questions about homeland security risks involved in turning over port terminals in Newark and five other cities to Dubai Ports World.
“We wouldn’t transfer the title to the devil; we’re not going to transfer it to Dubai,” Lautenberg said.
The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee said in a statement that it “values honest and fair debate, and fully supports all measures to keep our country safe.” But the group said Lautenberg’s “comparison of Dubai to the devil is unacceptable.”
“His comments compound paranoia, and outright racism in order to make otherwise unsubstantiated points,” said the group. The statement added that Lautenberg’s remarks are “part of a larger trend of bias rhetoric and backlash surrounding the debate over port security.”
Lautenberg said that any Arab group who knows his history is aware he is not biased. He said he promoted funds for the Palestinian Authority during the Clinton administration after an agreement was signed with Israel, and went to the Gaza Strip to celebrate the opening of a new airport.
“It wasn’t meant as an insult at all,” Lautenberg said. “I didn’t call Arabs the devil. I said I won’t do business with the devil and I won’t do business with Dubai.”
The New Jersey Democrat said from his viewpoint, “the devil is in the details.” And he said the facts show a long history of activities by the UAE that are worrisome, including its past dealings with Osama bin Laden, its friendship with Iran, and attempts to isolate Israel.
The political furor over the Dubai port deal has prompted other complaints from Arab-American organizations.
The Arab American Institute said in a recent statement that the debate has turned into “an irresponsible and ill-informed attack on an Arab country that has been a strong ally of the United States.”
“Of course my community supports any measure that makes our country more secure, including an honest debate about port security,” said AAI President James Zogby. “However, this campaign is nothing more than a self-serving use of anti-Arab sentiment callously playing off of post-9/11 fear and insecurity.
“The rhetorical excesses on the part of those politicians who are most outspoken on this issue has been shameful, irresponsible and uninformed,” he said.