WASHINGTON, — The battle over the nomination of a controversial Middle East scholar for the U.S. Institute of Peace is intensifying.
A U.S. Senate committee postponed a vote on Daniel Pipes´ nomination on Wednesday because a quorum was not present.
But several Democrats on the Senate´s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee blasted the selection of Pipes and criticized his writings on Muslims and Islam.
"This is an individual who is a lightening rod," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said in a lengthy, impassioned address. "This is not the person who ought to be on the U.S. Institute of Peace."
Pipes, an author and lecturer who has spoken out about the threat of Muslim fundamentalism, was nominated by the White House in April to sit on the board of the government-funded, nonpartisan think tank that promotes peaceful resolutions to international conflicts.
Pipes, the director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum think tank, did not attend the hearing and told JTA on Wednesday that he could not discuss the nomination.
Pipes´ nomination has been vehemently opposed by Arab groups and backed by some prominent Jewish groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, and the American Jewish Committee.
Several Democrats on the committee who are opposed to the nomination asked for a hearing on Pipes before a vote is called, saying more discussion was needed.
Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) said he was unsure how he would vote on the nomination, leading to speculation that Democrats could garner enough support to kill Pipes´ nomination before it reaches the full Senate.
Only one lawmaker of the half dozen who remained for the discussion about Pipes at Wednesday´s meeting, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), spoke in favor of Pipes.
He called Pipes´ positions "realities" and said his writing does not mean he can not participate in the diplomatic process.
Pipes is being publicly supported by some Jewish groups, but there was no visibly pro-Pipes contingent attending the hearings.
The AJCommittee sent a letter to Bush in April, praising the appointment.
"You have selected an eminently qualified candidate with broad knowledge of the threats posed by extremist, anti-American interpretations of Islam — and with the wisdom not to confuse the militants who make up that movement with the vast body of decent, moderate adherents of a proud and vibrant faith," said the letter, signed by the organization´s president, Harold Tanner, and executive director, David Harris.
After Wednesday´s Senate meeting, Harris urged quick confirmation.
"Rejecting this nomination would have a chilling effect on the important political discourse about the threat of Islamic radicalism," Harris said.
"Through his careful research and insightful analysis, Dr. Pipes has for years played a crucial role in public discourse, alerting the American public to the dangers posed by extremist Islamism in this country and abroad. After Sept. 11, 2001, it became clear that Dr. Pipes´ warnings over the years had been remarkably prescient."
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, also supports the nomination and is "making sure the appropriate people know about it," spokeswoman Rebecca Dinar said.
The Arab American community, in contrast, has fiercely opposed Pipes´ nomination, and Arab leaders, several of whom attended the committee meeting, say thousands of people called lawmakers Monday in a national call-day to express their opposition.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said he believed Pipes calling Muslim immigrants "brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene," which he did so in writing, was anathema to the mission of the institute. Kennedy is the ranking Democrat on the committee known as HELP.
"The views of this nominee are longstanding, well known, and decidedly one-sided," he said. "And they are not the words of one committed to bridging differences and bringing peace."
Arab groups were ecstatic that the vote was delayed, and they asserted that many Republican senators left the room before the planned vote to avoid taking a stand on Pipes.
Pipes has been a frequent target of the Arab community. A Web site, www.danielpipes.com, was launched in 2000, forwarding visitors to a site run by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Pipes threatened to sue, and he won the rights to the domain name.
Last year, Pipes launched a site called Campus Watch, which tracked professors on college campuses who denigrated Israel and the United States and justified terrorism and radical Islam.
Critics, however, said the site smacked of academic McCarthyism.
Wearing stickers that read "Oppose Pipes," Arab leaders at the hearing said that Pipes´ views, not the fact that he is Jewish, was what concerned them.
"I don´t think any of us feel that because of his ethnic background, we oppose him," said Mary Rose Oakar, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "I would be delighted to support someone who happened to be Jewish who stands for peace and anti-bigotry."