I am, of course, a strong supporter of Palestinian rights, so is Bernie Sanders, and so, according to a recent Gallup poll, are a majority of Democrats. But the crude effort to reduce Sanders’ entire campaign and my entire life’s work to an effort to “get Israel” betrays an unsettling anti-Arab bias and a bizarre obsession to which I must respond. It does damage to Sanders, to me, and to our nation’s ability to have an honest conversation about a critical issue of importance.
By focusing exclusively on Israel and ignoring all of the other concerns that Sanders has brought to this year’s presidential campaign, the press does a grave disservice to his efforts to elevate the issues of universal health care, free college tuition, raising the minimum wage, investing in clean energy, rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, and making Wall Street pay its fair share in taxes. This is a not so subtle attempt to demean the man and dismiss his candidacy as marginal.
The same is true for me. In response to the question from the editorial writer as to why Bernie may have appointed me, I recited a bit of my resume. To be sure, I am the proud founder of a number Arab American organizations, but I have also served on the DNC for 23 years. I have been on the DNC Executive Committee for the past 15 years; co-Chaired the DNC Resolutions Committee for the past 10; and have chaired the party’s Ethnic Council since 2009. I served as Ethnic Outreach Advisor to both the Gore 2000 and the Obama 2008 Campaigns. And President Obama has twice appointed me to two-year terms on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
When the mainstream media and the far-right groups converge in turning my entire life’s work into a one-dimensional caricature—“pro-Palestinian activist”—they are not complimenting me. They are setting me up. Make no mistake, I am proud of my advocacy for Palestinian rights, but given the political climate in which we live, such crude reductionism lays the predicate for political exclusion, violence, and threats of violence. Over the years, Arab Americans have suffered from all of these challenges to our rights. I know. I’ve been there.