By Ray Hanania
Of the 435 members of the US House of Representatives, fewer than 10 percent vote to support Palestinian rights and only slightly more support pro-Arab issues. Those speaking out for Palestine in Congress are a small and lonely group.
The largest proposed legislation in support of Palestinian rights in 2021 involved a resolution supporting the two-state solution, which was introduced by Michigan Rep. Andy Levin. Only 43 other members of Congress signed up to be co-sponsors of the bill, making a total of 44 supporters.
And you wonder why America is so against recognizing the rights of Palestinians. Some Arabs might sneer that Palestine is no longer relevant, but the truth is that support for other Arab countries and their needs isn’t much better in Congress. There is a lot of animosity toward support for pro-Arab issues, especially Palestinian rights.
Back in the 1990s, then-Virginia Rep. Jim Moran explained to me how difficult it is for advocates of Palestinian and Arab rights in Congress. Moran was one of the few non-Arab and non-Muslim voices to consistently speak out in defense of Palestinian rights and support the Arab world in Congress, much like Reps. Betty McCollum and Marie Newman do today.
Moran told me that the Arab community wasn’t cohesive in supporting him, even though he was one of the few members of Congress supporting them. Unfortunately, not much has changed. Any member of congress who speaks out in support of Palestinians or Arabs becomes a pariah in the US political system.
In Illinois, Newman augmented the movement to treat Palestinians fairly. She is not an extremist on the far left, but a centrist who can see the shades of any issue. She seeks consensus, bringing political opponents together to embrace a common good. This is not based on 100 percent acceptance, but on a majority. You compromise to gain.
Unfortunately, the culture of Arab and Muslim Americans is not like that. They dislike compromise and often demand what the Arab world has often demanded: All or nothing.
Newman not only supports Palestinian rights, but she also supports Israeli rights. That puts her in the political “kill zone.” American pro-Israeli groups dislike the fact that she supports Palestine, regardless of her support for Israel. And pro-Palestinian groups dislike the fact that she also supports Israel, regardless of her support for Palestine.
But the Israelis can afford to cut Newman loose and oppose her. The pro-Palestinian and pro-Arab groups cannot afford to fight her. Yet that’s exactly what many pro-Palestinian activists are doing.
In 2020, Newman won the Democratic nomination for Illinois’ 3rd District ahead of an incumbent who marginalized the needs of Palestinians, but she almost lost because another pro-Palestinian candidate, Rush Darwish, who raised more than $800,000 in campaign finance, tried to take her out. Darwish put his own interests ahead of the needs of the Palestinians, but fortunately only won 6,351 votes out of a total of 110,852. It was a pathetic return on the Arab community’s investment in him.
Since entering Congress, Newman has also come under attack from Palestinian American Iymen Chehade, who claims he was promised a job by Newman in exchange for supporting her run for office — a claim Newman disputes and that will be decided in the courts.
Unfortunately, the disputes with both Darwish and Chehade will undermine Newman’s Palestinian and Arab support. Candidates would normally brush that concern aside, but the district Newman represents has more Palestinian voters than any other in the country.
Newman is in a tough fight, put there by her own Democratic Party colleagues. She won election to the 3rd District, but the party’s state leaders decided to divide her district and so she will be up for reelection in 2022 in a newly redrawn 6th District, which is currently represented by the slightly more conservative Democrat Sean Casten, who has never spoken out in support of Palestinian rights and probably never will.
Newman is being punished by state Democrats because she crossed a political line by supporting justice for the Palestinians. They are doing everything they can to stop her from winning so that her voice on Palestinian rights will be silenced.
For Palestinians, Muslims and all Arabs, reelecting Newman should be their priority. Because if they cannot get Newman elected as a Democratic Party nominee for this district on June 28, then how can they ever expect to get Congress to one day pass any of the laws introduced by McCollum or Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and others supporting justice, fairness and the international rule of law when it comes to Palestine.
The first thing that needs to happen is for Chehade, who is running for the Democratic nomination in the newly redrawn 3rd District — which was intended to be a seat for a Hispanic — and Darwish to publicly endorse Newman. We need to end this self-destructive practice, in which our own community frequently becomes its own worst enemy, shooting itself in the foot every time someone tries to do something positive.
Newman deserves our support because she is one of the few members of Congress who has been willing to risk her career to defend Palestinian rights.