Inside the Anti-Syria Lobby’s Capitol Hill Push for More Starvation Sanctions – Hekmat Aboukhater 3/20/24


A week from the 13th anniversary of the US-backed Syrian dirty war, the American Coalition for Syria held its annual day of advocacy in Washington DC. I went undercover into meetings with Senate policy advisors and witnessed the lobby’s cynical campaign to starve Syria into submission.

On the morning of March 7, as the US Capitol teemed with lobbyists securing earmarks ahead of appropriations week and activists decrying the Gaza genocide, one special interest group on the Hill stood out. In the corridors of the Rayburn building, a group of roughly 50 people prepared for a busy day of advocating for sanctions to be levied against their homeland.

They were the Anti-Syria lobby — and had I infiltrated their influence campaign.

Throughout the day, I watched as this group pushed US officials to accept their policy of starvation sanctions while cynically ignoring famished Palestinians in Gaza.

Among the lobbyists was Raed Saleh, the head of the Syrian White Helmets, who were  to propagandize for regime change from behind humanitarian cover.

I attended a total of seven meetings with policy teams representing Senators Sherrod Brown, Maggie Hassan, Ben Cardin, Mark Kelly, Chris Van Hollen, John Fetterman, and Rick Scott. Throughout these sessions, I witnessed the anti-Syria Lobby attempt to bully and manipulate US officials into accepting their policy of starvation while cynically throwing starving Palestinians in Gaza under the bus.

At one moment, Raed Saleh, head of the Syrian White Helmets, which was founded by British intelligence, and funded by NATO states, painted Israeli air strikes against Syria in a positive light.

During a separate meeting, Wa’el Alzayat of the pro-Zionist Muslim outreach Emgage even demanded Senator Chris Van Hollen’s office support the approval of aid for Al Qaeda-linked militias in Syria.

“Stop freaking out about the stuff going to terrorists,” he insisted, adding that “the Brits are doing it, the Turks are doing it, [and] the Qataris are doing it.”

Purporting to be a voice for all Syrians, the anti-Syria lobby is spearheaded by the American Coalition for Syria (ACS), an umbrella organization representing opposition groups such as the Syrian American Council (SAC), the Syrian Forum, and a handful of others located in the US and Turkey.

Emgage, meanwhile, has been credited with getting the diaspora vote out for then-candidate Joe Biden in November 2020. The group has since fallen under criticism for acting as a de facto extension of the Biden White House and Democratic Party within the Muslim community. Emgage board member Farooq Mitha formally went to work for the Biden Pentagon in March 2021. On March 7, Alzayat aimed to weaponize Emgage’s influence against Democratic Senators who seemed uncomfortable with an escalating sanctions policy.

“I need a good story for my voters,” he explained to Senator Van Hollen’s team.

Throughout their sanctions campaign on the Hill, Alzayat and his cohorts operated like a miniature version of their Israel lobby allies, supplying roughly 50 volunteers with folders outlining talking points and the biographies of congressional representatives. The bios included a comprehensive list of the Senator or Representative’s recorded stance on Syria, such as their votes on the extension of the AUMF, the US military withdrawal from Syria, and previous sanctions packages targeting the country.

The handouts also laid out the lobby’s key legislative requests, which largely focused on securing development aid for militia-controlled territory in Syria — including that held by Al Qaeda’s local ally in the country — and ensuring passage of the ‘Assad Regime Anti Normalization Bill,’ which seeks to extend and expand sanctions targeting Damascus.

The Anti-Syria Lobby’s resemblance to their Israeli counterparts was no mistake. As Republican Florida Sen. Rick Scott’s chief of staff reassured us, “the Israelis want you guys in charge.”. …

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