In the US, Arab-American candidates score big

Thirty-seven of the 57 Arab Americans, including candidates for the US Congress, state governor, mayoral offices and state legislatures on ballots across the United States, were victorious in the US midterm elections November 6. 

Two Muslim-American women will serve for the first time in Congress: Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib from Michigan and Somali-American Ilhan Omar from Minnesota. Tlaib is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants and Omar moved to the United States 20 years ago as a refugee. 

Another Michigan Arab American, Justin Amash, also won a seat in Congress. Michigan, especially the greater Detroit area, has one of the largest populations of Arab Americans in the United States. 

Twenty-one Arab Americans ran for office in Michigan and 14 were elected to offices ranging from state legislature to city councils and school boards. Eight Arab Americans were elected to Congress, including Donna Shalala in Florida. 

Shalala, of Lebanese descent, served in the cabinet of former President Bill Clinton and was president of the University of Miami. It was her first run for political office — at age 77. Two Arab Americans won congressional seats in Louisiana, which has only six seats in the US House of Representatives. 

In addition to the eight victors, three Arab Americans lost elections for a seat in Congress. Among them was Democratic candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar, a 29-year-old Palestinian American in California whose opponent, incumbent Republican Representative Duncan Hunter, ran a campaign filled with personal attacks and ethnic slurs. 

Among other things, Hunter claimed that Campa-Najjar’s election would be a victory for terrorists and reminded voters that Campa-Najjar’s grandfather participated in the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s attack on Israeli athletes in Munich during the 1972 Olympic Games. Campa-Najjar never met his grandfather, who was killed by Israeli commandos, and was raised a Catholic by his Mexican-American mother. 

He worked in the Obama White House in a job that required a security clearance. In New Hampshire, Republican Chris Sununu was elected governor. Sununu, a Palestinian American, is the son of John Sununu, a former top aide in the George H.W. Bush administration who also served as governor of New Hampshire. 

Of the 37 victorious Arab-American candidates, 29 won seats at the state, county or municipal levels. This bodes well for future Arab-American political successes because these political jobs are often stepping stones to higher political office.  

With the exception of Campa-Najjar, none of the Arab-American candidates faced overt bigotry from their opponents, although more subtle forms of prejudice against Americans of Arab descent — and especially Muslims — remained. A number of far-right and white supremacist publications and websites such as JihadWatch warned of the “dangers” of electing Muslim candidates. 

JihadWatch noted that Tlaib was “draped in a Palestinian flag” at her victory celebration after winning the Democratic primary in August. Arab-American candidates mostly focused on domestic issues in their campaigns. Tlaib, for example, advocated for a higher federal minimum wage, expanded health coverage and higher taxes on the very wealthy. 

However, the progressive Jewish lobby group J Street withdrew its endorsement of her after she expressed support for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. J Street advocates for a two-state solution. In her victory speech, Tlaib said: “I want you to know my mom, who is from a small village in the West Bank, they’re literally glued to the TV — my grandmother, my aunts, my uncles in Palestine — are sitting by and watching their granddaughter.” 

She said her victory “shows a lot of Muslim Americans that even with Trump in the White House and the Supreme Court telling us the Muslim ban is legal, our voices are powerful and remind people that we belong in this country like everyone else.” 

By Mark Habeeb



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