Posted on July 03, 2000 in Washington Watch
Later this week I will testify before the Democratic Party platform hearings. Some of the issues I will discuss will be similar to those I have raised in the past. But given the dramatic changes that have occurred during the past decade, my testimony will be somewhat different than it was eight years ago. I will begin by telling the Party leadership who Arab Americans are. Then I will speak to them about what we want:
Arab Americans are immigrants and descendants of immigrants who are now celebrating more than 100 years as an American community. We are a diverse people, about three million strong, coming from all parts of the Arab world. We are part of the American success story. Arab Americans are an example of the contributions an ethnic community can make in this land of opportunity and freedom.
For over a century, we built communities and institutions. We have excelled in the professions. We have excelled in business and in public service. We are autoworkers in Detroit. We are grocers in Cleveland and San Francisco and Chicago. We are investment bankers in New York. And we are petrochemical engineers in Houston. We are mayors and judges and congressmen and senators.
Successive generations of Arab Americans have overcome hardship, exclusion and, at times, downright bigotry. Today we have moved into the mainstream of American life.
And through it all, we have preserved our common treasures, the ones we brought with us from our native lands, our rich heritage, our deep respect for tradition, our commitment to family, to free enterprise and the creative drive for excellence that brought us here and has propelled us forward.
And through it all, we have enriched the communities in which we live and helped to make America a better place.
It’s against this backdrop that we come into American politics. In the great debates taking place in our country today, we want to be full participants. We want to discuss civil and political rights from the perspective of a community that has known discrimination and wants it to end in all of its forms.
We want to present proposals on economic priorities and education policy from the vantage point of a community that has benefited from America and wants to insure that its opportunity is available to our fellow citizens and to all who will, in the years to come, arrive on our shores. And we want to be full partners in the discussions on foreign policy in the Middle East. We want to be a bridge of understanding.
We want to build new relationships based on mutual respect, on concern for human rights and democracy, on self-determination and on the establishment of normalized and productive ties in all of the endeavors that humans engage in. We want peace and its benefits to reign in the land of our origin. We want to see the Palestinian people live free and secure in a state of their own. And we want the same for Lebanon and Syria and Jordan, Egypt and Iraq and all the countries of the Middle East.
The last decade has marked a turning point for the Arab American community. Having experienced painful political exclusion in the 1980s, Arab Americans have become full participants in the Democratic Party in the 1990s.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson opened the door to politics for our organized community. Under the chairmanship of the late Ron Brown, my friend, we entered that door. But it was the Clinton-Gore Administration that sat us down at the table.
Our Arab American Democratic Leadership Council was proud to have played a role in the past two presidential elections and we have been especially proud to have played a central role in the establishment of the National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Council (NDECC)–the ethnic outreach arm of our party.
We are looking forward to the 2000 elections and yet another opportunity where we can work together with others in our party to produce Democratic victories–to win the presidency and to take back control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
We are pleased, therefore, to have the opportunity to, to come before you today to present a number of issues of concern to our community.
Firstly, we believe that our party should continue to take a stand against the xenophobic sentiments that led the Congress to pass repressive anti-immigration legislation in 1996. Immigrants are not a threat to America. They are, as they have always been, a source of enrichment. We urge, as well, support for positive immigration reform that eases the backlog of those who are awaiting naturalization, that provides some flexibility in allowing those with minor infractions in their past to qualify for citizenship, and that ends the use of secret evidence and guarantees due process rights in all immigration-related proceedings.
Next, we want to express our concern to you about the impact that the negative stereotypes and the widespread defamation of the 1970s and 80s had on our community. Sadly we find that those have become public policy with damaging repercussions for Arab Americans.
On too many occasions we have seen Arab American victims of a “rush to judgement” after acts of terror or national tragedies. The widespread use of “airport profiling” negatively impacted thousands of innocent Arab Americans who found that when they went to our nation’s airports, all to often, they “checked their rights when they checked their bags.”
While some improvements have been made in this area we still urge you to consider the importance of calls for an end to all forms of negative stereotypes and an end to discrimination and defamation against all ethnic and religious minorities. It would be helpful if Arab Americans and American Muslims were mentioned by name, as communities for which our Party has concern.
Finally, we want to speak about the Middle East, a critical area of concern for American foreign policy. Arab Americans want to contribute to the discussion about Middle East issues in order to assist in the protection of U.S. interests and the promotion of U.S. values in the region, and to assist the peoples of the Middle East to secure a just and lasting peace.
During the past seven and one-half years the President and Vice President have expended significant energy and resources in support of Middle East peace. Arab Americans are proud to have been invited to the White House to witness the signing of so many historic agreements, to have been invited to accompany the President and Vice President on a number of critical Middle East visits, and to have been able to play a role with Builders for Peace–a project in which Arab Americans and American Jews came together to support the Middle East peace process.
We believe that for there to be peace, there must be a constituency that supports peace. Bill Clinton and Al Gore have understood this and have established it as a working principle of their Administration that Arab Americans and American Jews can and should work together to find common ground in support of peace.
Our platform should acknowledge the Clinton-Gore efforts to secure peace amongst Israelis, Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians and Jordanians and should contribute to and reinforce the commitments made by the Administration.
Here I ask you to note that, when, in 1996, our Party’s platform spoke of Jerusalem as “the capital of Israel” we, in effect, undercut the position of our President who had pledged not to prejudice this issue which he has maintained could only be decided in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.
As a result the White House issued a “statement of clarification” noting that the platform’s language on Jerusalem was “the position of the party but not the position of the president.” The President’s position, the statement went on to say, is that:
“Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive and volatile issues in the peace process. I remain convinced that it is unwise for the United States to take actions that could be interpreted as prejudicing matters, such as Jerusalem, which Israel and the Palestinians themselves have formally agreed to discuss only in the context of direct, permanent status negotiations.”
Since Vice President Al Gore has also taken the same position as President Clinton, I urge you to support their position and let our platform remain silent on this issue at this most critical stage in the peace negotiations.
I also urge you to express support in the platform for deepening our mutually beneficial relationships with our Arab allies and to find a way in the platform to address the need to engage in a dialogue with the Islamic world and to show greater regard for America’s growing Muslim American community.
On the very difficult and troubling issue of Iraq, I urge you to look to the leadership provided by Democrats like Representatives David Bonior and John Conyers who are leading the call to de-link the economic from military sanctions against Iraq in an effort to help alleviate the suffering of its innocent people. The people of Iraq are caught in a vise between the brutal repression of Saddam Hussein and the equally brutal effects of a sanctions policy that has taken the lives of over 1,000,000. We urge you to send a message of compassion and hope to the Iraqi people that we will be sensitive to all their needs.
In closing, let me thank you again for the opportunity to contribute to the formulation of our party’s platform.
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