Posted by on April 30, 2015 in Blog

The Arab American Institute’s 2015 Leadership Days were ended with a White House with a briefing by senior members of the Obama Administration. Over 100 leaders spoke with policymakers in the Department of Justice, the National Security Council, USAID, and the personal office of the President. In this annual meeting hosted by the Office of Public Engagement and the Arab American Institute, many of our community’s brightest leaders challenged the White House’s actions over the past year, and offered thanks for the progress that has been made on domestic issues that impact Arab Americans.

The briefing started with Rob Malley, White House Coordinator for the Middle East and the Gulf Region at the National Security Council. Mr. Malley spoke at length about the regional turmoil, from Syria, to Yemen, and Lebanon. He also reaffirmed President Obama’s commitment to a two state solution despite the obstacles and ever changing facts on the ground.

Following Mr. Malley, Paige Alexander, Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for the Middle East at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), provided important data regarding U.S. humanitarian aid to Syria and explained what the administration is doing to provide humanitarian relief to Palestinians in Gaza. She also talked about the challenges that nations such as Jordan and Lebanon face because of the considerable number of refugees entering their nations from neighboring countries.

Vanita Gupta, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice, addressed pertinent civil rights and civil liberties issues. Ms. Gupta was reminded of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) use of controversial training manuals that reinforced negative and unqualified stereotypes about the Arab American community. She reported that her colleagues at the FBI were working on the matter.

After Ms. Gupta, Denis McDonough, Chief of Staff for the White House, spoke about the Obama administration’s policy in Syria, specifically stating that a new government must be representative of the Syrian people. Regarding Palestine, he acknowledged that the administration is deeply troubled with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments during recent elections and that they perceived his comments as an official change in Israeli policy.

To end the briefing, our community leaders heard from Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff to the First Lady, about several initiatives that the First Lady is undertaking. One of the initiatives she raised was the Let Girls Learn initiative, which seeks to empower adolescent women from all over the world to be able to obtain a formal education. 

The Arab American Institute’s White House meeting is the only community meeting between senior Obama administration officials and Arab Americans specifically. It is a vital platform to provide substantive input on the issues that impact Arab Americans and the issues the community cares most about. A diverse range of topics was discussed and our community leaders ensured that administration officials left the briefing with firm knowledge about the community’s concerns.  As we look ahead to the 2016 Presidential Election, our community will continue to engage with the current administration and future presidential candidates.  

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