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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 2007, pages 44-45

Arab-American Activism

AAI’s Gibran Awards Gala an Event To Remember

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) (Photo D. Hanley).

HUNDREDS OF ARAB Americans, elected officials, community activists and leaders gathered to celebrate the humanitarian achievements of Global Impact, Search for Common Ground, and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick at the ninth annual Kahlil Gibran “Spirit of Humanity” Awards gala on April 25 at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Washington, DC. Teresa Isaac received the fourth annual Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service in recognition of her dedicated service as a community leader and then as mayor of Lexington, KY at the Arab American Institute’s annual dinner.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) received applause when she pledged to continue to push for a ban on cluster bombs, and when she called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), who is considering a run for the presidency, said he believes Israel and the United States have a “special relationship.” He recounted a conversation with an activist who said the senator wasn’t a friend of Israel because he couldn’t be relied on as an “automatic vote.” Hagel resented being told that if he wants backing from the pro-Israel community, his support for Israel should be automatic. “First, I am an American senator,” Hagel said to wild applause.

Hagel also said he would not sacrifice his friendships in the Arab and Muslim world to please pro-Israel groups. “No relationship should be founded on holding hostage other relationships,” he insisted. “Why must it be a choice? It is not a choice.”

Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) (Photo D. Hanley).

Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson, a Democrat, told Arab Americans that, as president, he would close the Guantanamo Bay prison. The prisons at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, he said, had made Americans “very, very ashamed.”

Richardson, who served as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in 1997 and ’98, promised that in his first week in the White House he would name a Middle East peace envoy to try to get the peace process between Israel and Palestine moving again. “You have to be pushing very strongly for a two-state solution,” he maintained. “The cornerstone of American foreign policy is diplomacy and dialogue.”

Richardson also said he would remove U.S. troops from Iraq and talk to Syria and Iran about Iraq’s security.

Dr. James J. Zogby, founder and president of AAI, presented an award to Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the recently retired Catholic archbishop of Washington, DC who has spent his life serving the powerless. McCarrick’s support for interfaith understanding and human rights kept the issue of Mideast peace on the agenda of the U.S. Conference of Bishops.

Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Dina Powell, the highest-ranking Arab American in the Bush administration, described emigrating from Egypt with her parents as a 5-year-old who couldn’t speak English. When she grew up her parents told her to do whatever she wanted—as long as she became an engineer, lawyer or doctor. She bewildered them but made them proud, she said, when she ended up serving the president of their adopted country. (Powell subsequently resigned to join the Goldman Sachs Group.) “In America everything is possible,” she concluded.

Another beloved Arab American, Pulitzer Prize winner and Washington Post Middle East correspondent Anthony Shadid, gave a stirring speech about the need to build a bridge for peace between the U.S. and Arab world. Once an Arab-American gets that hyphen he or she can never go back, Shadid said, but “you can serve as a bridge. And in this age of walls and borders that divide, a few more bridges might actually help.”

—Delinda C. Hanley