Recognizing Allyship: Candidates Supporting the Arab American Community and its Interests
By: Dina Kobeissi / Arab America Contributing Writer
We have talked about the Arab American candidates taking congressional races by storm, see our last article here. However, there’s also been a surge in allyship in American politics. More and more we see the interests of Arab Americans being incorporated into campaign platforms. Who are some of the candidates taking the interests of the Arab American community to the ballot box? Let’s run them down.
Betty McCollum (D-MI)
Congresswoman Betty McCollum has long been an ally to the Arab American community, especially through her advocacy for the Palestinian cause. She currently represents MN-04 and recently introduced historic legislation to defend the human rights of Palestinian children and families living under Israeli military occupation which only further builds upon prior legislation she introduced to promote the human rights and safety of Palestinian children. Her legislation aims to prohibit Israel from using U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund its continued human rights abuses, particularly in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem,
“Peace can only be achieved by respecting human rights, especially the rights of children, and this includes the U.S. taking responsibility for how taxpayer-funded aid is used by recipient countries, Israel included. Congress must stop ignoring the unjust and blatantly cruel mistreatment of Palestinian children and families living under Israeli military occupation.” – Congresswoman McCollum
Brittany Ramos DeBarros (D-NY)
Brittany Ramos DeBarros is a longtime community organizer who, as a veteran, has experienced the violence and damage of the US foreign policy firsthand. She advocates for justice for all communities, including Arabs in America and abroad. She is s running against Max Rose and Nicole Malliotakis, whose platforms are each heavily pro-Israel, to become the next representative for NY-11.
Olivia Katbi, a prominent activist in Portland, Oregon, expressed that she knows Brittany “from her work with About Face: Veterans Against the War and her commitment to showing up for Palestine, which is why (she) absolutely support(s) #BrittanyForCongress“
“My time in Afghanistan opened my eyes and taught me that we cannot cultivate safety and security with violence. I came home feeling betrayed by a system that covered up greed and corruption with a veneer of fighting for freedom.” – Brittany Ramos DeBarros
Shervin Aazami (D-CA)
Shervin Aazami is a public health activist and longtime organizer for Indigenous rights and economic and racial justice. Aazami is running to become the next representative for CA-32. Aazami aims to change US foreign policy so that it reflects our commitment to justice, not militarism and exploitation. He believes the $740 billion annually on defense is neglecting the housing, education, and healthcare for working-class people at home and that trillions have been wasted on endless wars that are not about protecting democracy abroad or national security at home. Rather, they are about corporate profit and propping up our military-industrial complex.
Furthermore, Aazami’s platform is stricter on Israel, calling for no military aid to Israel for settlement expansion, illegal annexations, demolitions and displacement of Palestinian people, and the incarceration of Palestinian children. Aazami’s opponent is Brad Sherman who voted for both the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq and who has worked to support U.S. friendship and increased cooperation with Israel.
“Our support for Israeli sovereignty must not come at the direct expense of self-determination for the Palestinian people. I vehemently oppose imperialism, colonialism, and apartheid in all forms. The United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and the Jerusalem-based B’Tselem have all released statements declaring Israel an apartheid state, accompanied by extensive reports about state-sponsored segregation, displacement, and violence against Palestinians. Our tax dollars should not be financing state-sponsored oppression at home or abroad. Just as I intend to hold our government accountable for its sordid history of colonialism and imperialism, we must hold our allies to the same standard – Shervin Aazami
Andy Levin (D-MI)
Congressman Andy Levin currently represents Michigans 9th congressional district. Levin has spoken out and expressed concerns over Israel’s continued settlement projects and has expressed support for a two state solution.
Though Levin, like the liberal group J Street, has shied away from descriptions like “apartheid”, he has vocally objected to Israeli demolitions of Palestine property and displacements. In comparison, Andy Levin’s opponent, Haley Stevens, has received biggest support from right-wing, pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC (source: The Arab American News).
Levin has had a strong relationship with the local Arab American population and local PACs like the Arab American Political Action Committee (AAPAC). He also worked with Rashida Tlaib and Debbie Dingell to Recognize Arab American Heritage Month in Congress. The Arab American community has raised 100k+ dollars in support of Levin arguably most driven by dissatisfaction with Levin’s opponent who “stand(s) firm in (her) commitment to the U.S.-Israel alliance and will continue working in Congress to support policies that strengthen our strategic alliance.” In comparison, Levin has a much more nuanced approach that includes concern for Palestinians.
“For posing the questions I’ve posed, I will be accused of being ‘anti-Israel.’ To that I’d ask, what would be considered ‘pro’ Israel? To support the forced removal of Palestinians? To allow the occupation and creeping annexation to continue unabated, ensuring Palestinians will never have their human rights respected and Israelis will never live in security? To then proclaim alarm when there is renewed violence and more innocent lives are lost? – Congressman Andy Levin
Marie Newman (D-IL)
Congresswoman Marie Newman currently represents Illinois’ 3rd congressional district. Newman is considered a progressive Democrat and a supporter of peace and justice for Palestinians. As such she enjoys the support of the majority of Palestinian Americans in her district. The redrawn 6th District has the largest concentration of Palestinian Americans in the country. (Source: Arab News)
In 2018, Ed Hassan, a Palestinian American and director of the Arab American Veterans Association in Chicago, told Al Jazeera that Newman was a “fresh voice in our community” because she has reached out to the community and supported many of their causes. Dan Lipinski who proceeded with her has “shown insensitivity to the community by voting and sponsoring bills in Congress that the community disagreed with, while Newman showed a willingness to work with the Arab community.” (Source: Aljazeera) For example, Lipinski angered many in the Arab community by cosponsoring pro-Israeli legislation HR 4009 in Congress while refusing to support HR 4391, which was supposed to protect Palestinian children under Israeli occupation from being detained and tortured by Israeli forces.
Newman recently received endorsements from Arab and Muslim leaders in a letter: “In the very short time that she has been in office, Congresswoman Marie Newman has supported anti-Islamophobia legislation; sponsored a letter to Secretary of State Blinken urging action in Sheikh Jarrah and the illegal demolition of homes and annexation of Palestinian land; supported legislation defending the human rights of Palestinian children and families living under Israeli military occupation; supported pro-justice/pro-peace legislation for the Syrian people and the greatest humanitarian crisis of our lifetime; spoke up against the persecution of religious minorities in India. She did this to ensure that we live up to our democratic values globally as well as domestically.” (see more here)
Read here for an opinion piece that addresses controversies but explains why support for Newman remains important: Arab News Article “A candidate who deserves Arab American support”
“Newman deserves our support because she is one of the few members of Congress who has been willing to risk her career to defend Palestinian rights.” – Arab News
Jamaal Bowman (D-NY)
Congressman Jamaal Bowman currently represents New York’s 16th Congressional District. His platform entails transformative progressive policies that will improve the lives of those who have been legislated out of the American dream. Congressman Bowman is dedicated to passing visionary policy that infuses climate justice with economic and racial justice, and to highlighting the importance of research and investing in communities of color. Bowman has voiced his support for the Palestinian cause:
“The Palestinians are an occupied people. They are an oppressed people. Innocent people and children are suffering as America supports the occupation and denies Palestinians freedom. The occupation must end.” – Jamaal Bowman (source: Twitter)
However, many feel that while Bowman’s words are commendable, his actions have been more limited or disappointing such as his J Street Israel trip and Iron Dome vote. Read more here.
Debbie Dingell (D-MI)
Congresswoman Debbie Dingell currently represented Michigan’s 12th district.
Congresswoman Dingell joined Representative Rashida Tlaib in introducing a resolution honoring Arab American Heritage Month, a month-long celebration held in April to recognize the incredible contributions Arab Americans have made in the country.
“In my hometown of Dearborn and across the country, Arab Americans are part of the fabric of our community,” said Dingell. “The Arab community in Michigan has always been strong and vibrant, and at this time it’s heartening to see so many stepping up and being leaders in the community. From the economic impact of the Arab American business community to the important philanthropic work that our community centers and religious institutions put forward throughout the pandemic – I’m proud to celebrate them this Arab American Heritage Month.” -Debbie Dingell
Dingell also advocated against Trump’s past immigration policies commenting that “Arab Americans are an integral part of Michigan’s identity. Trump’s discriminatory #MuslimBan separated families, spread fear, perpetuated hate, & threatened our national security. We must pass the #NOBANAct to prevent any admin from taking this kind of action again!” (Source: Twitter)
However, her Palestine advocacy has been somewhat disappointing. While she has condemned violence against Palestinians, she withdrew from her support of HR 2407 (the bill introduced by Congresswoman McCollum that advocates for human rights for Palestinian children).
Marcy Kaptur (D-OH)
Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur currently represents Ohio’s 9th district and has been a supporter of the Palestinian cause as shown through her voting records:
She has voted against the following: the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act, withholding US contributions until the UN retracts accusations of Israeli war crimes, opposing any unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, prohibiting any US government document from referring to “Palestine”, defunding the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.
She has voted in support of the following: Rep. David Price (D-NC) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) issued a letter titled “Support Palestinian Aid and Israel’s Security,” in which they call upon Congress to continue aid to the Palestinian Authority.”
Congresswoman also signed a letter to President Obama calling for an ease to the Israeli blockade on Gaza in 2010.
Mark Pocan (D-WI)
Congressman Mark Pocan currently represents Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional District. Pocan is an advocate for human rights, and small businesses, and has advocated for a more critical view of Israel. Mark along with many other notable democratic members offered a resolution to block the $735K sale of weapons to Israel in response to the events occurring at the time.
In 2017, he also spoke out against the war in Yemen and the use of U.S. tax dollars being used to support the Saudi regime in the region. Pocan was one of five organizers of a bipartisan letter that was sent to President Trump imploring him to provide a legal rationale for any U.S. involvement in hostilities and to seek congressional approval before escalating military action. Pocan claims that the proposed Trump administration plans to participate directly in an attack on Yemen’s major port “could push the country into a full-blown famine.”
Last year during the bombings in the Gaza Strip he tweeted: “Over 200 Palestinians are dead—including 61 children. 10 people in Israel—2 kids—are dead. Homes, roads & news offices have been destroyed in Gaza. Another blank check for Israel is not going to end this violence. The US must demand a cease-fire.”
Cori Bush (D-MO)
Congresswoman Cori Bush is a registered nurse, community activist, and organizer representing the people of Missouri’s 1st Congressional District. Congresswoman Cori is a strong supporter of the BDS movement and has faced much backlash for her support of Palestinian rights. Representative Bush stated last year “Congress must stop funding human rights abuses by the Israeli military”, and she certainly demonstrated her stance when she became one of 18 cosponsors of H.R. 2590. This bill would impose restrictions on aid to Israel. One of these stipulations would stipulate that US taxpayer aid is not used for, “the unlawful seizure, appropriation, and destruction of Palestinian property,” the exact situation occurring in Sheikh Jarrah and which sparked a lot of violence.
She has created an intersection between African American historic oppression and racism and the similar struggle for Palestinians. Bush stated, “I remember sitting in a circle on the grass where Michael Brown Jr. was murdered and I remember them [Palestinians] describing to us what do to when militarized law enforcement shot us with rubber bullets or tear-gassed us. I remember learning that the same equipment they use to brutalize us was the same equipment we sent to the Israeli military to police and brutalize Palestinians.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a Puerto Rican American politician and activist who goes by AOC. As a member of the Democratic Party, she has served as the U.S. Representative representing New York’s 14th congressional district since 2019. AOC is the youngest woman ever elected to the United States Congress, having taken office at 29. Her stances on immigration and refugees have been a centerpiece of her platform. In 2018, she received backlash for criticizing Israel’s occupation of Palestine and is a proponent of a two-state solution. In March, she was quoted saying “I think the world is watching and many immigrants and refugees are watching, and how the world treats Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees should be how we are treating all refugees in the United States.”
Stephanie Gallardo (D-WA)
Stephanie Gallardo is running for election to the U.S. House to represent Washington’s 9th Congressional District. Stephanie is the daughter of a Chilean refugee and is running for office to implement changes to the education system, and immigration system, and is a support of shifting the balance of wealth inequality gap. If elected, she pledged to support legislation to build a “moral immigration system” that also would create a “quick and humane pathway to citizenship” for immigrants. She hopes to put the wealth of the nation into the hands of the blue-collar workers.
She is a staunch advocate for the Palestinian cause, a supporter of BDS, implementation of an arms embargo on Israel, and supports the cancellation of aid to Israel. She tweeted, “I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. I will stand with Palestine until the end of time, even if it costs me this election,” She also added, “I will never turn my back on those suffering at the hands of an apartheid regime [Israel].”
“We cannot continue to support Israel’s apartheid state as they displace, brutalize, exploit, and murder the Palestinian people,” she tweeted in 2021. “Solidarity is a verb, not a statement.” – Stephanie Gallardo
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