x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

We got our start in San Francisco

A review of news items that look at US-Arab relations, specifically covering developments in Washington, on the presidential campaign trail and in the American media.

More than 40 Arab-Americans are participating in this year's Democratic National Convention in Denver.
More than 40 Arab-Americans are participating in this year's Democratic National Convention in Denver.

This week, more than 40 Arab-Americans are participating as delegates and members of standing committees to the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Here is a look back at past conventions that helps trace their progress in US politics. 1984, San Francisco It was the first time that Arab-Americans, as an organised community, participated in a national political campaign. Prior to 1984, there had been Syrian and Lebanese committees, but never before had there been an Arab-American committee.

The Rev Jesse Jackson, recognising the potential voting strength of Arab-Americans, reached out to the community and Arab-Americans responded, raising money, working as volunteers and voting. But the process was still new to many, and so by convention time, only four Arab-Americans were there as delegates. At the convention, Mr Jackson asked me to deliver one of the speeches placing his name in nomination for the office of president. Having grown up in a political home, and having watched every convention on television since 1956, I was overwhelmed by the experience of mounting the podium and addressing the delegates. Since I was to be the first Arab-American to speak at a convention, I began my remarks, "I am an Arab-American ?"

1988, Atlanta After four years of mobilisation, Arab-Americans went to Atlanta with more than 50 delegates and convention committee members. During the primaries, Arab-Americans made their mark as a voting bloc, helping Mr Jackson win a surprise victory in the Michigan primary. At the same time, working together with progressive Jewish-Americans and other Jackson delegates, Arab-Americans succeeded in passing resolutions in 10 states calling for Palestinian rights, and had, through the efforts of the Jackson campaign, won the right to introduce a "minority plank" at the convention calling for "mutual recognition, territorial compromise and self determination for both Israelis and Palestinians".

Once again, I had the opportunity to address the convention, while the 1,200 Jackson delegates demonstrated on the floor, carrying signs that read "Palestinian Statehood Now" and "Israeli Security, Palestinian Justice". One delegate was Mary Lahaj, of Massachusetts, who was the first Arab-American Muslim woman delegate to any convention. 1992, New York Arab-Americans were represented by more than 40 delegates and committee members. We initially had some frustration getting into the Clinton campaign. At the convention, I ran into an American Israel Public Affairs Committee official, who said to me: "I know you're trying to get in. We won't let you in, and why should we?"

I was furious, but remembered Mr Jackson's words of wisdom: "The biggest threat you pose is not to get angry and leave, but to stick around and fight." And so we did. With the help of Ron Brown, the then-chairman of the party, and Joseph Lieberman, a senator, the doors of the campaign were opened. That year, a resolution passed by one of the convention's standing committees, called for inclusion and representation of Arab-Americans at all levels in the party.

1996, Chicago Arab-Americans were represented, once again by more than 40 delegates. The Arab-American Democratic Leadership Council was formally recognised by the Democratic Party, and Arab-Americans had become founding members of the Democrats' Ethnic Council. 2000, Los Angeles By now, Arab-Americans had become a fixture in the party. Once again 40-plus delegates had been elected from across the country. The Arab-American Tribute Reception was attended by more than 1,000 delegates and guests. The partisan debate within the community was intense, but it was fascinating, because this was the first time that both Republican and Democratic candidates actively courted the community's support.

2004, Boston With almost 50 Arab-American delegates and committee members, it was the largest delegation since 1988. The response from party officials and elected officials at the Convention Gala was significant, with more than 50 senators and representatives confirming their attendance at both that event and the issues forum, Civil Liberties and Global Responsibility. 2008, Denver Once again there are more than 40 Arab-American participants at every level. I am convening the Party's Ethnic Council and chairing its two caucus meetings, and Mary Rose Oakar is the chairman of the convention rules committee.

Marking new firsts for Arab-Americans, the Barack Obama campaign has hired an Arab-American outreach staff person in all-important Michigan, and the campaign has launched the first Arab-Americans page on its official website. A formal launch of Arab-Americans for Mr Obama, chaired by Nick Rahall, a congressman from West Virginia, is to take place next month. What was remarkable in 1984, has now become commonplace in 2008.

@Email:jzogby@thenational.ae