Former South Dakota Sen. James Abourezk headlined as the keynote speaker for a public forum on the state of affairs in the Middle East at the University of South Dakota Jan.14.
Abourezk offered his opinions on a variety of topics, including the United States’ relationship with Israel, the ongoing civil war in Syria and President Barack Obama’s recent nomination of former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.
The former senator spoke before a crowd in Farber Hall, where he said he did not agree with the federal government’s decision to support the Syrian rebels attempting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He does not believe the government situation will improve from its current status.
“The reason we are helping Syria is because we want to break the alliance between Syria and Iran, because Israel wants it broken,” Abourezk said. “If Israel was not involved, we would not be helping the rebels.
Abourezk expanded on his criticism of Israel’s relationship with the U.S., and said Israel dictates much of America’s foreign policy in the Middle East.
“It’s a moral dilemma to continue to support Israel when they occupy (the Gaza Strip) when we wouldn’t support anyone else doing such an oppression,” Abourezk said.
He said he believes U.S. politicians are too intimated to stand against Israel on any issue.
“The Israeli government has a lobby in Washington, D.C. that frightens almost every politician except for a few,” Abourezk said. “This has to do with the amount of money being raised by Israel for U.S. politicians. If a candidate says anything of opposition in regards to Israel, they (the Israeli lobbyists) will give the money to the opponent.”
Abourezk said he supports Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense. In the past, Hagel expressed his reservation about going to war with Iran and has been criticized for not supporting Israel enough.
“It’s the best thing that has ever happened (on Hagel’s nomination). He’s an honest man, smart guy. I don’t think he’ll be afraid of anybody,” Abourezk said. “He (Hagel) really won me over when he said ‘I’m a Nebraska senator, not an Israeli senator.’”
Abourezk, who became the first Arab-American to serve in the U.S. Senate in 1973, has maintained interest in Middle Eastern affairs since his departure from politics and holds relationships with several leaders in the region.
Approximately 20 to 25 students, faculty and citizens attended Abourezk’s presentation at Farber Hall. The forum was moderated by Benno Wymar, a USD emeritus professor in economics.