- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

Lebanese-Americans celebrated their culture, heritage and recent historic changes in Lebanon at the American Task Force for Lebanon’s annual dinner Tuesday night.

Syria’s withdrawal of its troops and the upcoming elections were “historical changes without resort to violence, a tremendous achievement in the Middle East,” Lebanese Ambassador Farid Abboud told the crowd at Washington’s Ritz-Carlton.

Rep. Ray LaHood soon added that the Lebanese now “have a chance to take their country back, and it looks like they are doing that.”

Longtime pop singer Paul Anka, who was honored along with Mr. LaHood and pollster John Zogby, turned out to be the real star of the evening.

Cracking jokes about former President Bill Clinton (“Clinton came up to me and said he used to make love to my records — until Hillary took the stereo out of the White House”), Mr. Anka ended the evening with the audience clapping and singing along to “Diana,” “Put Your Head on My Pillow” and other romantic hits.

Mideastern diplomats dined with prominent Americans of Lebanese descent, including Sen. John E. Sununu, former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, consumer activist and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, former chief of protocol Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt and former NATO commander Gen. George Joulwan.

The beautiful soprano Cristina Nassif began the program by singing both the Lebanese and American national anthems. Then came the speeches, eight in all, plus introductions.

Although a peaceful and prosperous Lebanon was the topic of the evening, the dominant theme soon became each honoree’s dear mother, which, in Mr. Zogby’s case, expanded to include dedications to his wife, Cathy. And his three sons, Jonathan, Benjamin and Jeremy. And his father, Joseph. And his brother, Jim.

Mr. LaHood retold the story of his grandparents immigrating to Peoria, Ill., from Lebanon in 1895, “not with their hand out, but with the idea that if they tried hard enough, they would succeed. And they did.”

Ray Irani, president and chief executive officer of Occidental Petroleum Corp., lightened things up with film clips of teenage girls screaming at a ‘60s Paul Anka concert before the Las Vegas headliner came onstage to a standing ovation.

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