By Munir K. Nasser
Arab Americans will reflex their political muscle this week in Washington at the Convention of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the largest membership organization of Americans of Arab descent in the United States.
The ADC Convention, which will start on Thursday June 8 and end on Sunday June 11, will feature a variety of keynote speakers and issues of concern to the Arab American community, including the peace process, issues pertaining to the UN role in the Middle East, the issue of Jerusalem, sanctions on Iraq, in addition to domestic issues of concern to the community.
The Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Anan, will be the Convention’s keynote speaker and will be speaking on the United Nations role in the Middle East, and the variety of roles it performed over the years in terms of peace making.
ADC extended an invitation to Republican and Democratic presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore to appear together, but they have declined because of scheduling problems.
Among the featured speakers are a number of US officials, including Thomas Pickering, Undersecretary of State for Policy, who will be representing the Administration’s and the State Department’s perspective on US foreign policy in the Middle East. At the same event, the Acting Assistant Attorney General, Bill Lan Lee, will be speaking on domestic issues of relevant to the community. The Democratic and Republican National Committees will be sending their national chairmen to represent their parties at the Convention.
The list of high-level speakers includes Hanan Ashrawi, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Shafiq Al-Hout, former PLO representative in Lebanon, and Azmi Bishara, Palestinian Arab member of the Knesset.
A number of prominent persons who have achieved international recognition in their fields will be honored at the Convention with special awards, including Marcel Khalifeh, the famous Lebanese musician and singer, Hans von Sponeck, former UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, Ralph Nader, consumer advocate, Richard Shaydyac, director of St. Jude’s Hospital, and Naomi Shihab Nye, author.
People attending the Convention will also participate in a briefing at the Congress and the White House to discuss issues of concern for the Arab community.
Khalil Jahshan, ADC Vice President, said Arab Americans today have become players in the political game in United States. He told Albawaba.com in an interview that Arab Americans are seeking a more energized and more focused agenda for their community.
He said this year’s Convention reflects more cohesion in the community and more focused efforts, particularly after the merger of ADC and the National Association of Arab Americans (NAAA) six months ago.
Jahshan said the visit to Congress and the White House on the first day of the Convention as a lobbying group is an attempt to influence their policy in the Middle East. He also said the visit will focus on domestic issues that are under consideration in Congress like the secret evidence, profiling, and the new recommendations for counter terrorism.
When asked about the progress Arab Americans made in this regard, he said today Arab Americans have made enough progress to be recognized as a legitimate part of the American political and social mosaic. He added that they have no problem getting appointments to meet members of Congress. “The problem is getting enough people to do that,” he noted. He said that many Arab Americans, because of their frustration with Congress and the influence of the pro-Israel lobby, have the impression that Congress is a waste of time.
“It is true that the pro-Israel lobby has an ironclad control over Congress in terms of policy, but that doesn’t mean that we have to shrink our responsibility as Arab Americans in trying to present an alternative counter point to the pro-Israel lobby,” he stressed.
Jahshan believes that the impact of lobbying efforts by Arab Americans have improved over the years. He pointed out the “Relatively speaking, we are pleased when we look today and see six Arab Americans members in the House and one member in the Senate, and when we see more than 70 members of Congress willing to speak out on a very, very difficult issue, which is the issue of sanctions against Iraq. Our community has been working very hard on this issue. Last year we had 20, five years ago we had zero members who were willing to speak out on this issue.”
Jahshan said that the next year will signal a more intensive and effective lobby efforts by the community to try for the first time to mobilize the largest Arab American membership ever in the history of the Arab American community in the US. “We can reach now 20,000-25,000 people, and if we can mobilize them in the right direction focusing on the right issues, we are going to leave a marked impact on the US policy,” he said.
He noted that the national chairmen of the DNC and RNC agreed to address the convention at the same panel. “It signals that both parties realize that the Arab American community is a player in the political game in the country and they need to be cultivated. So both parties chose to send representatives to appeal to Arab Americans to vote for them,” he said.
ADC and NAAA, decided six months ago to merge and combine their board of directors, with ADC maintaining 10 members and five members from NAAA. They agreed on a division of labor that keeps Hala Maksoud as President of ADC, the mother organization. As part of the merger, Khalil Jahshan serves as the Vice President of the over all organization ADC, but he presides over NAAA-ADC, the government relations affiliate of ADC, which serves as the lobbying arm of the organization – Albawaba.com.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)