The بندوق pecking order

Israeli newspapers today covered the appearance of a certain Farid Ghadry before the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Knesset. A brief bio on Mr. Ghadry:
  1. born in the Republic of Syria
  2. emigrated to the Republic of Lebanon as a child, holds Lebanese citizenship
  3. awarded citizenship in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (later revoked)
  4. emigrated to the United States and earned American citizenship
One might ask, on what basis would such an individual, who at one time carried 4 passports, be asked to speak to the Israeli Knesset?

Well, ynet News says:
"Ghadry, who heads the Syrian Reform Party – composed of Syrians living in Europe and the United States – arrived in Israel to convince the government not to negotiate with the Syrian president."

Thus, the visit is framed as an appeal from a respected opposition leader of exiled Syrian patriots. But this is a self-serving lie perpetrated by Ghadry. For certain, there are honorable members of the Syrian opposition, but not even a remote connection between any of those individuals and Ghadry.

الحقيقة: "Frank" Ghadry is nothing but a 4th-rate Lebanese con-man.
He might be slick enough to fool unqualified nepotistic neocons like Liz Cheney (the cheapest date in Washington for sleazy foreign agents posing as US citizens) into thinking that he was even Syrian at all - let alone that he had any kind of following - but I expected the Israelis to have more discerning eyes. At least in 1982 they fell for a 1st-rate con-job. (continued...)
For the record, here is the بندوق pecking order:
  • 4th rate: "Frank" Ghadry, staunch defender of the Caledonians
  • 3rd rate: Ziad Abdelnour, a self-obsessed hack who fancies himself one of the "300 most prominent Lebanese-Americans", but then asks people to shell out $50 so he can show off his "friendship" with former CIA head James Woolsey
  • 2nd rate: Ahmad Chalabi, Donald Rumsfeld's Iraqi pet who peddled lots of the bad WMD intelligence that led the US into this disastrous war
  • 1st rate: Amin "Mr. 2%" Gemayel, former Lebanese President who predicted a few years back that the Iraq War "will bring fundamental change to the area, and there will be a kind of Pax Americana...The U.S. will build on its relations to spread new ideas and a new mentality in the area, as well as reconciling with the people of the region." uh huh.

Likud MK (Member of Knesset) Yuval Steinitz - a close ally of Bibi Netanyahu - organized Ghadry's visit, ostensibly to offer a different perspective than the one given by Syrian-American Ibrahim Suleiman 2 months ago. Yet by using his influence to give credibility to a nobody, Steinitz has turned himself into Israel's Nancy Pelosi, because his independent diplomacy has made him look foolish and unqualified. No doubt that Bashar Assad and his cronies are all laughing like hell today, thinking: "Is this the best they can do? He's not even Syrian!"

Predictably, Ghadry was totally disregarded by Israel's left, including Danny Yatom from the Labor Party, and as indicated by MK Zahava Gal-On from the Meretz Party:

"Ghadry's proposal to negotiate with the Syrian people and not Bashar Assad is improbable because political talks must be held with the regime controlling the country. So the regime in Israel must speak to that in Damascus. If we had waited for someone else to rise to power instead of Sadat, we wouldn't have peace with Egypt today. Israel must ignore Ghadry's proposal and announce it wants direct negotiations with Assad."

The Jerusalem Post, which reflects Israel's more hawkish thinking, bought Frank Ghadry's pitch hook, line, and sinker. But Haaretz's Arab Affairs correspondent Yoav Stern has Ghadry's number. He writes:

"51-year-old Ghadry left Syria at a young age and immigrated to Lebanon, and later to the United States, where he lives today. He is considered a close associate of conservative officials in Washington. Ghadry founded the Syrian Reform Party while in exile in the U.S. in [2001], with the aim of bringing down Assad's regime. He later called on the American government to invade Syria, as it did in Iraq.

Ghadry's opponents within the Syrian opposition maintain that he is an 'imposter' and has no support in Syria or outside of it. Ghadry himself maintains that he is an integral part of the Syrian opposition."

One of the most fascinating elements of the visit was the reaction of non-Jewish Arab MKs (remember about 20% of Israel's population descends from the original inhabitants of towns and villages in today's Israel who did not flee in 1948). For example, MK Ahmad Tibi confronted Ghadry outside the committee chambers and asked him:

"Aren't you ashamed of yourself? You come here as a cheap tool in the hands of Netanyahu and ask the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee not to cede the Golan, your homeland, when more than half the Israelis want to withdraw. This is despicable."

Tibi is correct about Ghadry being a cheap tool of Bibi (and the Washington neocons), but I have to wonder if Ghadry even understood what was said to him in Arabic. Other Syrian opposition members have told me that Ghadry's Arabic language skills are pathetic (mine are too, but even I have seen typos on his website) and he made a fool of himself during an al-Jazeera debate, in which his opponent was constantly correcting his speech. He may not remember this from his childhood years, but Syrian citizens tend to be quite finicky about the Arabic language.

The bigger issue, however, remains why none of them have pointed out the obvious: Ghadry is Lebanese and any discussion with him on anything pertaining to Syria is as good an exercise in futility as one could ever hope to find.

Those familiar with the region know that some of the most virulently anti-Syrian Lebanese citizens are those whose families, like Ghadry's, fled from cities like Aleppo and Damascus when the Baath Party came to power. While they identify passionately with a Lebanese identity, Ghadry decided after 2001 that an ideal con job would be to wind back the clock, re-assume a Syrian identity, and set himself up as a "reformer". And it worked on the hapless neocons and most journalists, not to mention much of the Knesset.

I look forward to reading the full transcripts of the Frank Ghadry circus. But I would have loved to have heard him come up with answers to the following questions, which I doubt were asked:
  1. With which passport did he travel to Israel? Was it his American one? Why not his Syrian one? Does he even have a Syrian passport?
  2. Is his organization, the so-called Reform Party of Syria, an actual Syrian political party, or an American group?
  3. Did he testify before the Knesset committee as a Syrian citizen, or as an American citizen?
  4. When he testified before the US Congress, did he do so as a Syrian citizen, or as an American citizen?
  5. When he donated thousands of dollars to the Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of the subcommittee before which he was called - by an amazing coincidence - to testify, did he do so as an American citizen? (because otherwise it would be illegal)
  6. When his teenage daughter contributed $2,000 to the same Congresswoman, did she do so out of her own volition? (because otherwise it would be illegal)


I had to add this fascinating etymology lesson from translator Grégoire Bali, as posted in the comments section (see CLICK TO DISCUSS below).

Just a word though on بندوق (Banduq). I don't know if you're aware that this word came into use in Aleppo under the Ottomans, when Aleppo was the 3rd most important city in the Empire, after Istanbul and Cairo, and a major crossroad of international trade. There used to be various trade delegations, the most important one of which was the Venetian trading post. Considering Venice in Arabic is البندقية (Al-Bunduqiah, and here's another interesting etymology I can tell you about later), the people of Aleppo under the Ottomans were not used to the way of living of the Venetians, whose wives accompanied them and were often seen in public mingling with the other men. They therefore thought all their sons were bastards, and so the word بندوق (Banduq, or little Venetian) became the word you most commonly use to say bastard in the Levantine culture. By the same token, in Ghadry's case, you can substitute the Venetians for the Americans and you will know who the بندوق's daddies are.