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 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).
“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.