ARLINGTON, Va. – On June 6, over 500 Arab Americans went to Capitol Hill to kick off the 19th National Convention of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). They lobbied their Congressional representatives on the protection of civil liberties at home and fundamental human rights throughout the world, issues highlighted at the four-day convention.

The largest ADC convention to date brought together over 3,000 delegates including a large representation of young people and students. The workshops, plenary sessions and special awards events dramatized the broad range of issues that call for new levels of political action.

Hussein Ibish, ADC Communications Director told the World, “We have decided to make ourselves a more organized community, a larger organization that tries to have not only a real presence in Washington but on Capitol Hill, something that Arab Americans have never had.”

Ibish said, “Over the next 12 months you’ll see a further development in members and new chapters. You’ll also see some real work to try and develop the political action committee that we set up [for] Congressional campaigns and to diversify the input into the debates on the Arab-Israeli conflict in Congress.”

Ziad Asali, ADC president, told the convention, “November elections are just around the corner, and 2004 is not far behind. Let us coordinate, plan and deliver our votes as the precious commodity that they are. Let us put an end to the era of taxation without representation that we ourselves have volunteered by not participating.” The ADC established a new political action arm called the National Association of Arab Americans-ADC (NAAA-ADC).

The ADC reached out to a broad range of groups who want to see a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Middle East, including Iraq. Workshops included participation by the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum for Peace, a group representing parents who have lost their children in the conflict. Members of the PLO, Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Legislative Council also participated.

Asali condemned the suicide bombings saying, “The Israeli people have been subjected to suicide bombings and random killings that have heightened their insecurity and induced panic in their hearts. We stand here tonight to condemn all murder of innocent civilians without equivocation.”

The gap between the Bush administration’s policy and U.S. public opinion was highlighted by Ibish. He told the World, “For the last four to five months we’ve seen poll after poll reflecting that a three-fourth’s majority support a two-state solution, three-fourth’s majority which blames both sides for the current conflict.

“Between 50-60 percent supports using U.S. aid as leverage to get the Israeli’s to respond to the peace process. In other words [a majority is] willing to cut aid if the Israelis refuse to negotiate,” he said.

Ibish said this is one reason why the Israeli government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars just in the last 22 months to influence the U.S. public. “Why have they spent so much money, some organizations spending $40,000 a week in order to try to influence public opinion? Because the [government] policy is completely out of sync with public opinion,” he said.

The struggle for civil rights and liberties in the U.S. was addressed in the plenaries and workshops. Asali addressed the convention about racial profiling since Sept. 11, and the history of the struggle for democratic rights. “We need to keep in mind that this is an American challenge that has been met by many groups throughout U.S. history,” he said.

“The gains in the struggle for equality and civil rights in this country, achieved through the heroic efforts of so many good people over the past half century, cannot be allowed to be so readily relinquished as they apply to Arab and Muslim Americans. It is our historic task, at this hour of vulnerability and peril, to hold the banner of equality, of liberty and justice for all,” he concluded.

King Downing, national co-ordinator of the Racial Profiling Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) put the challenges facing the people of the U.S. bluntly when he told a workshop on coalition building, “We are in a constitutional crisis.”

The author can be reached at jleblanc@pww.org

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