Arab community mourns passing of Salameh Zanayed

Arab community mourns passing of Salameh Zanayed
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Arab community mourns passing of Salameh Zanayed

An icon of the Arab American community died on May 13, 2018. Salameh Zanayed was a pillar and pioneer for achievement in Arab activism, Arab media and in empowering Arab Americans in regional government in Chicago and Illinois. He was adept at diplomacy in juggling the many rival and competing interests that plagued Chicagoland’s Arab American community and he kept the community together for nine years, until his retirement.

By Ray Hanania

One of the icons of the Chicagoland Arab American community, Salameh Ibrahim Zanayed, passed away on May 13, 2018.

A Palestinian Arab immigrant from Ramallah in occupied Palestine, Zanayed was a long time activist and one of the community’s first cable TV and radio broadcasters.

Zanayed arrived in Chicago as a student on Sept. 2, 1961 as an engineering student. Salameh married his sweetheart, Nadia, and worked as an accountant with the Brunswick Corporation until 1969 when he opened Amana Certified with his brother, Khalil at 3939 N. Ashland. A year later, he opened Jett Travel.

On Sept. 9, 1991, Salameh became the first Arab American to host an Arab TV show, for five years.

“It was called the Voice of the Middle East. It was on Channel 26 and the host was Assyrian leader Klamis Ganji. Later we sold it to Issa Tadros. On May 1, 1985, the two Arabic radio stations closed, including the Voice of Palestine, and one by Tobia Hashem,” Zanayed told me during an interview for my book “Arabs of Chicagoland” published in 2005 by Arcadia Publishing.

Salameh Zanayed Arabs of Chicagoland Book. Photo courtesy of Salameh Zanayed

Salameh Zanayed Arabs of Chicagoland Book. Photo courtesy of Salameh Zanayed

Salameh Zanayed was also the host of the first Arabic language radio program for 15 years.But with the change over of the radio show, Salameh did not lose his interest in launching a professional Arab American television program, and he again launched another TV show called “Good Evening Chicago (Mesall Khair Chicago).

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“When the two radio stations closed, I decided to open my own radio program on May 1, 1985 and I kept it through 1994. It was very successful. In 1994, I turned it over to Yousef Shebli who now is the host,” Zanayed told me.

Nationally, Salameh served as the National President of the Ramallah Federation, which is the largest Palestinian American organization in the United States. Salameh Zanayed served as one of two Ramallah representatives to the Palestinian National Council.

He also served as a past president of St. George Church, now located in Cicero and one of the largest Christian Orthodox Arab American churches in Chicagoland. It is headed by Father Nicholas Dahdal. And he was involved as chairman of the board of directors of the Phoenician Club which named him Man of the Year in 1985.

Additionally, he wrote and published three books of Arabic poetry. One of his published books of his poetry is called “The Birth of the Dawn.”

But his most influential position in terms of helping Arab Americans has been his role and involvement in getting Mayor Harold Washington to establish the Arab Advisory Commission. In the 90s his political dream came true with the creation of the Arab Advisory Council under Mayor Harold Washington.

Eventually, working with dozens of other Arab American leaders in Chicago, the Arab Advisory Commission was created and Salameh was selected as its first Executive Director of the Human Relations of Arab Affairs in the City of Chicago, and Community Liaison to the Arab American community. With Salameh’s help, Mayor Daley launched the annual reception each November to honor Chicago’s Arab American community. It is the first time a major elected official has recognized our community and Mayor Daley’s role has opened many doors that have been previously closed.

The Arab Advisory Commission was closed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel following Emanuel’s election as mayor in 2011. Emanuel also ended the annual commemoration of Arab Heritage Month in November of each year that Zanayed helped launch. Currently, there is an effort to designate April as National Arab American Heritage month to sidestep Mayor Emanuel’s rejection of the Arab community.

Salameh Zanayed retired after nine years as director of the Human Relations Commission’s Advisory Council on Arab Affairs on May 16, 2000, and he was succeeded by Sahar H. Mawlawi, who reigned over the commission’s demise. No one could come close to the talent that Salameh Zanayed had in diplomacy and dealing with the various Arab American political organizations and activists. Under his watch, the Arab Advisory Commission was an influential Chicago city department.

To reward his service to the community, former Illinois Governor George Ryan proclaimed March 23, 2000 as Salameh Zanayed day in the state of Illinois. The resolution was presented to Zanayed at a community dinner I helped organize at the Westin Hotel in Chicago where more than 400 community leaders celebrated Zanayed’s achievements and his retirement. Among the officials who recognized Zanayed were Chicago Alderman Edward M.. Burke, Mayor Richard M. Daley and several members of the Illinois Legislature.

Salameh Zanayed is survived by his beloved wife, Nadia of 55 years; Devoted father of Rana (Frank) Shunnarah, Ronnie Zanayed, Roala (Khalid) Baba and Rita (Ramiz) Sweiss; Fond grandfather of Musa, Jacqueline, Alexander, Briana, Eli, Mark, Chloe, Paul and Kayla; Dear brother of Sami, Fadlallah (Rima), Zarifeh (Issa Diab), and sister-in-laws Kamra and Huda. Born in Ramallah, Palestine on September 30, 1936. He came to Chicago in 1961, and married his wife Nadia in 1962. They raised four beautiful children.
Salameh Zanayed was a devoted family man, loving husband and caring father. He was an inspiration to all the lives he touched, and lived a rich life with an unwavering faith in God. He is reunited with his parents, and brothers, Khalil, Issa, Elias and sister-in-law Hanneh and Yusra. Visitation Wednesday, May 16, 2018 at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, 1220 S. 60th Ct., Cicero from 5:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. Services held Thursday at St. George Church at 10:30 a.m. Interment will be held at Elmwood Cemetery.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist, author and former Chicago City Hall political reporter. Reach Hanania at his personal website at or by email at
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Managing Writer at The Arab Daily News
RAY HANANIA — Columnist

Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.

"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."

Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).

Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at, the, and at He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper,, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.

The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website, Hanania's columns also appeare in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.

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