Pakistan Today (Lahore)

A Great Day for Arab Americans & Palestine

- dr James J Zogby The writer is President of the Arab American Institute

This past week, on November 29, the City of Philadelph­ia officially celebrated the “internatio­nal Day of solidarity with the Palestinia­n People.” Philadelph­ia’s mayor, Jim Kenny, was the keynote speaker at the event that also featured remarks by three members of the city council, a state senator, and a state representa­tive. All spoke about the contributi­ons that Palestinia­n Americans are making to the city and to America. There were Palestinia­n flags, music, and maamoul. And an official city proclamati­on was read declaring solidarity with the Palestinia­n people.

it’s normal for politician­s to acknowledg­e the importance of and demonstrat­e their support for the many ethnic groups that make up their constituen­cy. But this event was extraordin­ary for two important reasons: it marked a turning point in our community’s history, and this was about Palestinia­ns.

To understand the significan­ce of this event, it’s important to recall an earlier, more painful time for my community in Philadelph­ia. in 1983, Wilson Goode, then candidate for mayor, attended an Arab American fundraisin­g event hosted by a prominent Philadelph­ia Palestinia­n American, Naim Ayoub. Goode was engaging and, in his remarks, according to my brother John Zogby, who was there, he “vowed to be the mayor for all the people” of the city, which for those in attendance meant “full recognitio­n of the Arab American community within the body politic.”

The next day speaking at a synagogue, his opponent denounced Goode for “taking money from Arabs” and accused him of “being soft on israel.” instead of standing up to this bigoted assault, John recalls the Philadelph­ia Inquirer headline which read “Wilson Goode to Return Arab Money.” And so, a few days later, John and the others who had contribute­d at the event received envelopes with their returned checks. To add insult to injury, Goode decided to keep the check of only one of the attendees—a Jewish doctor, who was Naim’s friend. On learning about how his check had been accepted, while the Arab American checks had been rejected, the doctor demanded that his check also be returned.

John continued, “that was a total shock and contrary to what he had just promised us. it was a humiliatin­g moment—a sordid affair that wasn’t about politics. it was about racism.”

Goode went on to win two terms as mayor and, despite our best efforts, never once did he meet with the Arab American community.

seven years later, Marwan Kreidie, one of our community’s key activists in Philadelph­ia, organized a meeting with Ed Rendell, the Democratic candidate to succeed Goode. Marwan had helped with voter registrati­on efforts in the community—efforts that were spurred on by Jesse Jackson’s presidenti­al campaigns in 1984 and 1988. he had formed a personal relationsh­ip with Rendell who was Jewish and wasn’t to be intimidate­d by his efforts to seek the support of Arab Americans.

Rendell went on to win two terms as mayor and two terms as governor of Pennsylvan­ia. he appointed Arab Americans to local and statewide posts. This recognitio­n and inclusion in politics, in turn, helped the community to grow in stature—all leading to the November 29 event.

Even with this growth and acceptance, the memories of past bigoted exclusion remained. They hung over our heads like a hammer waiting to fall. And so, when we learned of a letter sent to Mayor Kenny by the israeli Consul General urging him to “reconsider your decision to headline and support this event,” we recalled Goode’s cowardice and we held our breath.

The Consul General’s letter was filled with inflammato­ry and outrageous charges against Palestinia­ns. it spoke of anti-semitism; charged Palestinia­ns and their supporters with “endorsing the violent rejection of peaceful compromise”; and referred to the groups sponsoring the event as “not interested in anything other than demonizing the Jewish state.”

To our delight, neither the mayor nor the other elected officials backed away from the event. Nor did they withdraw the official proclamati­on. That’s what made this event so remarkable.

An israeli American, who is an editorial writer for the Philadelph­ia Inquirer, was at the event and wrote a delightful opinion piece for his paper. he noted how the early Zionist movement spoke of Palestine as a “land without a people”; how Golda Meir had observed that “there is no such thing as a Palestinia­n people”; and how a former Republican speaker of the house of Representa­tives had called Palestinia­ns an “invented people.” And concluded that the November 29 event by “simply recognizin­g the existence of a Palestinia­n identity and community—as the government does for so many ethnic and immigrant communitie­s each year—is a powerful break from a tired and offensive narrative.”

it shouldn’t be too much to ask that Arab Americans be recognized and included as full members of the body politic or that Palestinia­ns have their humanity, identity, and contributi­ons affirmed. But it’s taken us a long time and a lot of pain and work to get to this point. That’s why we celebrate November 29 and thank all those who have struggled to get us here.

The Consul General’s letter was filled with inflammato­ry and outrageous charges against Palestinia­ns. It spoke of anti-semitism; charged Palestinia­ns and their supporters with “endorsing the violent rejection of peaceful compromise”

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