New Republic Cancels an Invite to Foe of Saudis

By Eric Marx, With Reporting by Ori Nir in Washington.

Published October 10, 2003, issue of October 10, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The New Republic magazine is coming under attack for co-sponsoring a recent forum with Saudi Arabia and allegedly agreeing to the kingdom’s demand that it withdraw its invitation to a leading critic of Riyadh.

Author Stephen Schwartz told the Forward that he was removed from the panel at the behest of Saudi Arabia, which co-sponsored the October 2 panel discussion on the kingdom’s political future and has advertised in the magazine.

“I was deeply shocked,” said Schwartz, a convert to Islam and author of “The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa’Ud from Tradition to Terror” (Doubleday), in which he accuses the Saudi government of being the principal backer of the Palestinian militant group Hamas and funding the spread of the puritanical form of Islam known as Wahhabism.

“My book says that this evil alliance of the cult of Wahhabism and the House of Saud has had a devastating effect on Islam,” said Schwartz, a former Washington bureau chief for the Forward and currently director of the Islam and Democracy Program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “I’m the person that has caused them the most trouble. It is because of who I am.”

Moderated by The New Republic’s foreign editor, Lawrence Kaplan, the panel discussion included four scholars representing a range of views, including Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a critic of the Saudi regime, and Chas Freeman, a former American ambassador to Saudi Arabia and defender of the kingdom. Though the Saudi government’s co-sponsorship is not mentioned on the magazine’s online publicity section for its events, several participants told the Forward that it was mentioned at the recent panel.

“The fact is The New Republic, as most of its readers understand, can’t stand the Saudis, and I think the problem comes when money demonstrably affects arguments, and in this case I don’t think anyone suspects it would,” said Kaplan, himself a critic of the Saudi regime. “This was a case of the magazine co-sponsoring the debate with some one who was on the other side of the debate and I see nothing inherently unethical about that, as long as [the magazine] hews to the editorial line.”

Kaplan confirmed that he suggested to the magazine’s business operations that two experts be included in the panel — Clawson and Schwartz — and that an invitation was extended to Schwartz. Kaplan and The New Republic’s editor, Peter Beinart, who helped arrange the panel, said they were unaware whether the Saudi government had rescinded Schwartz’s invitation.

“What they [the business side] told me was that for reasons of space they could not take both but I felt we still had a balanced panel because I was a panelist myself and so was Patrick [Clawson],” Kaplan said.

The New Republic’s president and publisher, Stephanie Sandberg, did confirm that the Saudi government was granted some oversight in the formation of the panel. “What we want to do is have a panel which is acceptable to both sides,” Sandberg said. She said that such understandings were a “typical” part of promotional arrangements in which sponsors commit to a minimum advertising campaign in exchange for the opportunity to present their views. In this instance, the Saudis took out 12 advertisement pages, allotting them three panel discussions, Sandberg said.

“You want a panel where all points of view are represented,” Sandberg said. “But if someone is going to be offended, you don’t want that.”

For the last two years, The New Republic, which is known for its hawkish foreign policy stances and liberal and centrist positions on domestic issues, has held monthly public policy discussions in conjunction with business sponsors such as United Parcel Service, the Nuclear Energy Institute and the American Gas Association.

Clawson, however, said that providing such a platform to a foreign government — and then not clearly indicating that government’s sponsorship — is disingenuous at best. Though he agreed to participate in the event, Clawson argued that the publication had put itself on shaky ethical grounds.

“It’s inappropriate for a magazine to seek sponsors from interested parties for forums, unless there are rigid procedures put in place to ensure the complete independence of the magazine and what it is doing,” Clawson said in an interview with the Forward. “It’s particularly inappropriate to seek financing from foreign governments for these purposes.”

Beinart, however, said that the bottom-line question is whether outside sponsorship has influenced the editorial stands of the magazine. “The New Republic’s positions on Saudi Arabia are crystal clear and will remain so,” Beinart said. “Anyone who thinks we will become an apologist for the Saudi government is just dreaming.”

Schwartz countered that such arguments miss the point. “If the Saudis had input on this, the Saudis would no more want me on a panel like that than they would want the decapitated princess of 30 years ago to come back to life,” said Schwartz, referring to a Saudi royal who was beheaded by the regime, allegedly for having an embarrassing high-profile affair. “I’m the person who causes them the most trouble.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.