Chicago aldermen move to re-establish Arab rights
Chicago has been friendly and supportive to the American Arab community for many years. One of my first journalism assignments was covering Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley in welcoming the Ambassador of Morocco to City Hall in 1976. As the only Arab newspaper reporter in the Midwest at the time, Daley invited me to cover his meeting with the ambassador in his mayoral offices. Every mayor since has shown respect to the Arab American community except Chicago’s current mayor, Rahm Emanuel.
By Ray Hanania
Two Chicago Aldermen, Ed Burke (14th Ward) and Joseph Moore (49th Ward) have introduced an ordinance to re-establish the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs as a part of the Chicago Human Relations Commission.
The Arab Advisory board was dismantled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel immediately after his election in 2011. Emanuel, Chicago’s first Jewish mayor, distanced himself from Chicago’s large Arab American community, many believe because of his support of Israel and opposition to Palestinian rights.
It was a major issue because the majority of Arabs in Chicago are Palestinians, many of whom are refugees who fled Israeli terrorism, violence and brutality after the 1948 war and in 1967 when Israel attacked it’s neighboring Arab countries in a “pre-emptive strike” and captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
It was also perceived as a conflict because Emanuel’s father Benjamin Emanuel, made derogatory comments about Arabs. In an unusual exchange, when asked if he thought his son would make an impact in the Obama administration’s policies the senior Emanuel responded, “Why wouldn’t he? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House.”
To his credit, Emanuel was quick to apologize for his father’s comments, stating, “From the fullness of my heart, I personally apologize on behalf of my family and me. These are not the values upon which I was raised or those of my family.”
American Arabs accepted Mayor Emanuel’s apology. Many of them even supported his election and re-election, believing that being Jewish, he could better understand the suffering of Palestinians and their need for inclusion. Rahm Emanuel is not his father after all.
The truth is that Mayor Emanuel is not required to address the Middle East political concerns of American Arabs, including the Palestinians. His only obligation is to respect every citizen, as he has repeatedly claimed, and give Arabs equal access, respect and include them in City programs, events, and policies.
However, his actions and policies for the City of Chicago have not engendered much belief in Mayor Emanuel’s commitment to full engagement of the Arab American community. American Arabs, especially Palestinians, have been excluded from Mayor Emanuel’s administration.
Every effort to meet with Mayor Emanuel to discuss his administration’s failure to respect the rights of American Arabs has been re-buffed by his administration. In 2016, at an Iftar Emanuel co-hosted for Chicagoland’s Muslim Community — the majority of Muslims, 78 percent, are non-Arab — I politely confronted Emanuel and urged him to consider the feelings of American Arabs. I told him most Arabs were not interested in debating the Palestine-Israel conflict with him but were instead concerned about ensuring their rightful place in Chicago government.
“We pay our taxes like everyone else,” I told him. He was polite, smiled, we shook hands and despite five attempts to interview him, I have not heard from him since.
It will be interesting to see how Mayor Emanuel reacts to the Burke-Moore proposal. Alderman Moore was the co-host with the mayor last year of the Iftar, which marked the end of the Islamic Holy month of Ramadan.
Chicago’s history of respecting its Arab citizens
My first assignment as a freelance reporter covering Chicago City Hall was when Mayor Richard J. Daley personally invited me to cover and photograph his meeting with the ambassador of Morocco in 1976.
The late Mayor, who died just before Christmas in 1976, was not only respectful of Arab Americans but also believed Arab Americans were just like everyone else in Chicago. American Arabs had begun settling in Chicago in large numbers as a result of the 1893 Columbian World Exposition. Daley treated us with respect and was inclusive.
His successor Mayor Michael A. Bilandic was respectful, too, asking me about my Arab heritage with genuine interest and respect after he ran the Beverly Ridge Marathon. I had run the marathon too, although Bilandic was a near professional marathon runner.
Subsequent Chicago Mayors including Jane M. Byrne, Harold Washington, Eugene Sawyer and Daley’s son, Richard M. Daley, all respected the American Arab community, which unofficially numbered about 450,000 — the U.S. Census excludes Arabs from their census count and it is impossible to know the exact number.
Washington created the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs and named Salameh Zanayed as its first Executive Director. Years later, Mayor Richard M. Daley launched the city’s annual celebration of Arab American Heritage, designating November as “Arab American Heritage Month” in 1991.
The celebration of Arab Heritage Month expanded to other government offices including by the Cook County Board and by then Governor Jim Edgar who recognized Arab Heritage Month that same year in 1991. The tradition was embraced by Gov. George Ryan, who invited me an other Arab Americans to set up displays promoting Arab heritage
In 2006, Daley launched the Arabesque Festival. It ran every Summer on Daley Plaza for six years, until Emanuel was elected.
Daley invited me to host a display at the Arabesque Festival, a collection of Photographs I had taken over the years of the American Arab community. There were over 30 photographs, enlarged and displayed in a Heritage Tent. One of the photos included a picture of the mayor’s father greeting the Ambassador of Morocco, the first nation to recognize the independence of the United States when it was formed in 1776.
Daley stood there and examined the photograph of his father, taken only months before he had died later that year.
“That’s a beautiful picture, Ray,” he told me.
Mayor Daley and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye. I covered Chicago City Hall from 1977 through 1992, including the first few years of his administration. Naturally, mayors and City Hall reporters didn’t always get along. It was in the nature of the assignment. Newspaper didn’t want “good news.” They wanted controversy, scandal, and conflict.
But Daley was polite that day and he shook my hand and thanked me for documenting his father’s moment that day at City Hall in 1976.
Part of the problem for American Arabs was the political animosity against them by some members of the Jewish Federation of Chicago.
The Jewish Federation had several meetings with Daley to complain about everything Arab Americans did. Remember, the majority of Arabs in Chicago are Palestinian, and every time Palestinians would host a cultural display showcasing their history, some members of the Jewish Federation would protest and complain.
They complained to Governor Ryan when he asked me to display my photographs in the main lobby of the State of Illinois Building. There were two photographs they objected to on display, both showing Palestinians including one of a citizen waiving a Palestinian flag, and another showing Palestinians and Arabs protesting in front of the Chicago Sun-Times, which is considered one of the most anti-Arab, racist newspapers in America.
Without informing me, the Governor had the two photographs removed.
During the Arabesque Festival, Jewish leaders complained about material that some of the participants were handing out criticizing Israeli policies against Palestinians.
Israel’s government confiscates lands and property belonging to non-Jews, expels the non-jewish residents, and gives the property and land to Jewish settlers. My own family’s land adjacent to Gilo is under assault by Israel’s government, which refuses to allow us to rebuild the home there that they destroyed in 1970. Israel says it supports Christians but clearly they do not as my family is Christian Palestinian from Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
The meetings to complain were documented by the Jewish Star. Click here to read the July 2007 Jewish Star story about Jewish leaders protesting the Arabesque Festival. Click here to read the August 2007 Jewish Star story about Jewish leaders protesting the Arabesque Festival.
The activists clearly wanted the festival to exclude any reference to Palestine, and they lobbied Daley hard to do it.
But Daley never relented to the anti-Arab pressure. Unfortunately, Mayor Emanuel had a different view. I submitted FOIA’s for any notes or documents about meetings Mayor Emanuel had with leaders of the Jewish Federation, but City Hall’s law department gave me the run-around, providing nothing.
New ordinance introduced by Burke and Moore
I applaud Alderman Burke and Alderman Moore for standing up to Mayor Emanuel’s clearly anti-Arab policies during his mayoral administration these past six years. It will be interesting to see what Emanuel, who cancelled the Mayor’s Annual Arab Heritage Month celebration, too, will do in response.
Here is a copy of the ordinance re-establishing the “Advisory Council on Arab Affairs.”
City of Chicago, Committee on Finance
City Hall . Room 302 . 60602
Alderman Edward M. Burke, Chairman
Alderman Burke, Moore Launches Push to Restore Advisory Council on Arab Affairs
(April 19, 2017) Aldermen Edward M. Burke (14th) and Joe Moore (49th) today proposed an ordinance that would re-establish the City of Chicago’s Advisory Council on Arab Affairs which was eliminated in 2o11.
“Now more than ever we need to protect and promote lasting relationships with Arab-Americans,” Alderman Burke said. “Restoring this advisory council would help to further this goal.”
Under a “management ordinance,” the 2l”-member Advisory Council on Arab Affairs was trimmed from the Municipal Code on November 16, 201,1, along with seven other advisory boards and replaced by four new advisory councils with broader duties.
“Looking back at this consolidation, we may want to revisit this action and restore the Advisory Council on Arab Affairs,” Alderman Moore said, noting that Chicago is home to one of the largest Arab-American populations in the nation.
There are more than 3.7 million Arab-Americans living in the United States, making up more than 3 percent of the nation’s population. Illinois boasts one of the largest communities of Arab-Americans with more than 94 percent of Arab-Americans residing in metropolitan areas.
Advisory councils are appointed by the Mayor and require the approval of the Chicago City Council. They are responsible for acting as a liaison between the community they represent and the Mayor. The advisory councils also recommend policies and programs and suggest the introduction of legislation.
The chairpersons of each council also serve as ex-officio members of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations which enforces Chicago’s Human Rights Ordinance and the Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance.
The measure was sent for consideration to the Committee on Human Relations. The ordinance would become effective upon adoption by the City Council.
WHEREAS, the City of Chicago (“City”) is a home rule municipality as described in Section 6(a) of Article VII of the 1970 Constitution of the State of Illinois; and
WHEREAS, pursuant to its home rule power, the City of Chicago may exercise any power and perform any function relating to its government and affairs including the power to regulate the protection of the public health, safety, morals and welfare; and
WHEREAS, the City has established its Commission on Human Relations to enforce the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance and the Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance. The Commission investigates complaints to determine whether discrimination may have occurred, and uses its enforcement powers to punish acts of discrimination. Under the City’s Hate Crimes Law, the agency aids hate crime victims. The Commission also employs proactive programs of education, intervention, and constituency building to discourage bigotry and bring people from different groups together; and
WHEREAS, the City, through its 2012 Management Ordinance, consolidated the advisory councils and created the following four advisory councils: the Advisory Council on Equity; the Advisory Council on Women and LGBT issues; the Advisory Council on Veterans; and the Advisory Council on New Americans; and
WHEREAS, to aid in the fulfillment of that mission, these four advisory councils were tasked to act as a liaison between the city government and community organizations, in order to promote cooperation between the government and these organizations and among these organizations, in order to enhance services to the population of Chicago; and
WHEREAS, there are over 3.7 million Arab Americans living in the United States today making up 3.1 percent of the nation’s population; and
WHEREAS, the State of Illinois is home to a large and diverse Arab American community and boasts one of the largest populations of Arab Americans in the United States increasing by 41% during the decade of 2000 through 2010; and
WHEREAS, about 94 percent of Arab Americans live in metropolitan areas, including Chicago, which is home to one of the largest communities of Arab Americans among all major U.S. cities; and
WHEREAS, with the rate of anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, anti-Israel and anti-Hispanic hate crimes doubling in the City of Chicago over the past year; and
WHEREAS, due to recent policies created by our federal government banning residents of various middle eastern countries from visiting our great nation, which further encourages the division of our nation and hatred of immigrants whether they are citizens or not; and
WHEREAS, in order to protect and promote lasting relationships with the Arab American community, the City finds it appropriate to amend the Municipal Code of Chicago; now, therefore
BE IT ORDAINED BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO:
SECTION 1. The above recitals are expressly incorporated herein and made part hereof as though fully set forth herein.
SECTION 2. Section 2-120-500 of the Municipal Code of Chicago is hereby amended by adding the underscored language as follows:
2-120-500 Advisory councils.
The following advisory councils of the commission on human relations are hereby established:
(a) Advisory Council on Equity;
(b) Advisory Council on Women and LGBT issues;
(c) Advisory Council on Veterans; and
(d) Advisory Council on new Americans.
(e) Advisorv Council on Arab Americans
The mayor shall appoint 21 members to each advisory council, subject to approval of the city council. Of the initial appointments to each advisory council, one-third shall be appointed for a term of one year, one- third shall be appointed for terms of two years, and one- third shall be appointed for terms of three years. Succeeding appointments to these advisory councils shall be for terms of three years. The mayor shall designate a member of each advisory council to serve as its chairperson. The chairperson of each advisory council shall be a member ex-officio of the commission on human relations. The mayor shall also appoint a director for each advisory council. Each director must be a member of the respective advisory council’s affected community and shall receive such compensation as provided by the annual appropriation ordinance.
Each advisory council shall have the following powers and duties, relating specifically to the segment of the population of Chicago described in the council’s name:
(a) to assist the commission on human relations in designing educational and enforcement programs for the implementation of the policies embodied in Chapters 2-160 and 5-8 of the Municipal Code;
(b) to act as a liaison between the city government and community organizations, in order to promote cooperation between the government and these organizations and among these organizations in order to enhance services to the population of Chicago;
(c) to cooperate, through the commission on human relations, with the other advisory councils in the identification of practices and actions having a common discriminatory impact on the advisory council’s target population and other segments of society, and in the design of programs for the elimination of such practices and actions;
(d) to develop a procedure, primarily through solicitation of advice from members of the affected community, for recommending appointments of successor members to their respective advisory council to the mayor;
(e) to devise rules of procedure for its meetings, subject to the approval of the commission on human relations; and
(f) to assist the commission on human relations by recommending policies and programs, reviewing existing programs, conducting legislative research and reporting to the commission on its findings with regard to the specific needs of its community.
SECTION 3. This ordinance shall be in full force and effect from and after its passage.