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Arab Americans to Discuss Election Strategy Tonight

posted on: Jun 25, 2008

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After a testy private meeting last week with Barack Obama, Arab Americans are gathering tonight in Dearborn to discuss their strategies for the presidential election.
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“Tonight’s meeting is very important because it will lay the foundation for a collective and unified community approach,” said Imad Hamad, Michigan director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Last week, more than 10 Arab-Americans and Chaldeans met with Obama in Detroit at a private session that included more than 150 community leaders, mostly African American. At one point, the meeting got tense after some Arab-Americans challenged Obama.

According to three Arab-Americans who attended the meeting, Anan Ameri, director of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, asked Obama a critical question about his appearance before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) earlier this month. In his speech before the group, Obama had strongly defended Israel and said that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of Israel.

Obama responded to Ameri by saying that the Jewish community has every right to assemble and get involved in politics, according to people who attended the meeting.

“He stressed the importance of granting equal opportunity to all, and the right of every political group to lobby,” said Hamad, who was at the meeting. Obama added that he would always act to serve American interests, according to Hamad.

Then, Osama Siblani – publisher of the Arab American News in Dearborn – raised his hand and shouted:

“You went too far at AIPAC,” according to Siblani and Hamad.

Obama seemed to be concerned that Siblani appeared to be talking out of turn and replied to Siblani:

“No, sir,” according to Hamad.

Siblani said he then replied: “Yes, you did, you went too far.”

At that point, Obama said, according to Siblani:

“Sir, if you want to talk to me, we can talk here, on the side, after I finish.”

Siblani, Hamad and others waited after his talk, but were unable to speak to Obama. His aide said they would possibly arrange a later meeting with them.

Siblani said he was disappointed with the meeting.

But Ramzi Dalloo, a Chaldean-American from Troy at the meeting, said he thought the meeting went very well.

“Sen. Obama was reaching out to the community,” Dalloo said.

The meeting was also attended by Noel Saleh, a board member at the Dearborn-based Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, Ahmed Chebbani of the American-Arab Chamber of Commerce and Dearborn attorney Ali Dagher. A message left with an Obama spokeswoman was not immediately returned.

Last month, Obama met privately in Macomb County with a Muslim leader from Dearborn, Imam Hassan Qazwini.

Niraj Warikoo
Detroit Free Press