The Arab wave in US Congress

Walid Jawad
Walid Jawad - Special to Al Arabiya English
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Can the swell of Arab-American candidates create a wave in this 2018 election cycle?

At least 75 Arabs are running for public office in local and national races this November according to the Arab-American Institute.

Five of those candidates are fighting to keep their seats as members of Congress: Justin Amash, Ralph Abraham, Garret Graves, Darin LaHood, Charlie Crist. Arab-Americans are a fixture in American political life since the great wave of the 1970s when six won seats to the US House of Representatives.

The possibility of a second wave, come this November, is palpable with 23 candidates winning their primary races so far ahead of the general elections. While equal number have lost their primary races, the rest of the candidates are still fighting for the chance to represent their party on Election Day less than ten weeks away.

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This is a very strong showing. Each one of these candidates has an impressive story to tell. They have endured trials and tribulations just to make it this far along the process on the road to winning public office.

One such race is the return of Donna Shalala to the national spotlight after winning the Democratic House of Representatives Florida primary seat. Shalala, the former Health and Human Services secretary under President Clinton, prevailed in a crowded field of Democratic candidates on Tuesday.

More Arab-American and other independent, patriotic Americans winning legislative seats will lead to better chances for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict peacefully

Walid Jawad

Rashida Tlaib

The name Rashida Tlaib has been reverberating in mainstream media over the past few weeks. Rashida, this Palestinian-American-Women, has secured the Democratic party nomination to run unopposed for Detroit's 13th District.

Once she assumes her responsibilities in January as the first Muslim-American female Congresswoman, Palestinians will have a strong voice in the hallowed chambers on Capitol Hill.

Tlaib’s winning her Democratic Party’s nomination is groundbreaking. In addition to her being a woman, she is a first generation Arab-American born to a Muslim Palestinian immigrant.

J Street, the liberal-leaning Jewish organization, endorsed Tlaib, helping her secure her election bid. But shortly thereafter, the organization withdrew its endorsement citing concerns over news reports confirming her belief in a one-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Herein lies the disconnect. The one state solution is neither the goal of J Street nor the official position of the Palestinian government.

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Rashida Tlaib will not be the only Palestinian voice in Congress if Ammar Campo-Najjar unseats Duncan Hunter. But will their voices along with other Arab-American legislators advance the Palestinian cause?

The one-state solution is not an option in the current political climate. But with her in Congress and with more people supporting her vision, the Palestinians themselves might find it beneficial to consider her vision. Seeing that the two-state solution is not a workable option, a different goal must be put in place.

The immediate goal must be ending the unjust situation of suffering for many decades and multiple generations as soon as practically possible. A state of Israel with equal rights for its Palestinian citizens, including those in Gaza and the West Bank and displaced refugees.

Although her win is one more victory for the Arab American community, this multifaceted community is not effective in advancing the Palestinian cause as other ethnic American communities are effective in advancing theirs.

Arab-Americans might be lifted by the Blue Wave that will probably tip the political balance in favor of the Democrats.

Most observers are confident the American electorates will hand Democratic candidates a big win this November allowing the party to regain control of the House of Representatives and possibly, with much slimmer odds, the Senate. Such an outcome will allow Congress to play a balancing role to that of President Donald Trump.

The multidimensional Ammar

As for Ammar, he holds a complex identity as the grandson of a Palestinian who participated in the terrorist attack on the Israeli Olympic team in 1972.

His grandfather, Muhammad Yusuf al-Najjar, was a member of the “Black September” organization. He has been expending a significant amount of energy and resources fighting accusation of terrorism in both English and Spanish.

His mother is from Mexico allowing him to connect with the Spanish speaking citizenry of California’s 50th district, which includes San Diego. Although he was trailing Rep. Hunter earlier in the race by a significant margin, Ammar’s chances became much better in light of the latest campaign fund indictment of Hunter.

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Ammar takes a defensive posture against accusations related to his Arab lineage. “This is another ploy from out-of-touch forces, who play identity politics and don’t want to talk about the issues,” said the 29-year-old candidate defending himself.

“Obviously, people make a lot of assumptions about me that are not accurate,” he stated before going on the attack. Last night, Ammar proclaimed that his opponent is not worthy of representing the people of his electoral district,” We don’t have a lawmaker anymore. We have a lawbreaker.”

Arab schism

Justice for Palestinians will be achieved in the US. More Arab-American and other independent, patriotic Americans winning legislative seats will lead to better chances for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict peacefully.

The drawback for Palestinians is the “Made in USA” nature of any proposed solution. These Arab-American politicians might have Arab roots or recognizable surnames, but they are Americans first and foremost. It is not a criticism; it is a fact that is built in the American political system.

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A system that advances equality and the rights of its citizens. A self-correcting system that protects minorities when injustice befalls them.

In part, Islamophobia, anti-Arabism, and America’s policies toward the Middle East all inspired Arab-American candidates to run in this unjust cultural and political environment. Their Arab roots inspired them to run for office, but its American patriotism that wins them votes.
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at US Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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