J.B. Pritzker’s Muslim problem lingers
Illinois’ Arab American community continues to grow in strength which is why more and more many candidates for public office are courting them for their voter support. But racism is not something that can just be ignored and has to be addressed forthrightly and with an apology. That doesn’t always happen and it is dogging the popularity of J.B. Pritzker among many Arab and Muslim American voters.
By Ray Hanania
The Arab and the Muslim vote has increased significantly during the past decade and that’s one reason why so many candidates for public office are soliciting Arab and Muslim voter support.
There are more than 78,000 verified active Arab American voters, according to data obtained and compiled by my media company Urban Strategies Group. It took a lot of effort to compile the list based on merging the limiting U.S. Census data, the state’s voter records, and other surveys. But when the matching was done, 78,000 Arab voters is significant.
I think the number is actually low because the U.S. Census, which measures other ethnic groups, excludes Arabs and Muslims from their count. Not all voters or Illinois residents publicly identify themselves as “Arab.” And many other Arab and Muslim voters are under the radar screen of activity. Some “Arabs” are not even considered “Arabs,” such as some segments of the Lebanese American community which is big in downstate Peoria. And Middle East Christians like Assyrians, who have a large presence of more than 100,000 people on Chicago’s North and Northwest Side, are also not included.
Regardless, Arab and Muslim voters can’t be ignored. It’s an issue every candidate must address, recognizing that Arabs and Muslims are patriotic Americans who served in the nation’s military honorably and with distinction, pay their taxes, and manage many large and small successful businesses.
Arabs and Muslims are a part of our society and should be treated with respect. And while it is easy for many candidates to make mistakes, their willingness to address those mistakes and to apologize for remarks they make in the heat of elections that are considered or viewed as racist or offensive is a measure of their character.
One candidate, however, who doesn’t agree is J.B. Pritzker, the Democratic candidate for Governor against Republican incumbent Bruce Rauner.
In 1998 when Pritzker was running for Congress in the 9th Congressional district to succeed Congressman Sidney Yates, Pritzker didn’t hesitate to slam Muslims as a religious group or Arabs as an ethnic group, stereotyping them for political benefit.
One of Pritzker’s rivals, State Sen. Howard Carroll, attended an event hosted by the American Muslim Council. Pritzker immediately denounced Carroll asserting that the American Muslim Council was a terrorist organization. Why? Because he claimed several of its members and activists were harshly critical of Israel and supportive of Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement that was fighting Israel at the time and continues to fight Israeli oppression.
At the time, Muslims and Arabs demanded that Pritzker apologize, but he refused. And worse, the mainstream American news media, which is also racist and biased against Arabs and Muslims, ignored the controversy almost completely. It was brushed off.
But the racist comment did help Pritzker attract votes among some of the district’s voters who are easily moved by racism and stereotypes to vote and they supported him. Fortunately, Pritzker lost the election. The winner is the progressive and forward thinking Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.
Pritzker, Carroll, and Schakowsky are all Jewish, but that is really irrelevant to the issue. Many Jewish Americans support freedom and justice in the Middle East and are critical of Israel’s government. Because the real issue in Israel is not about Israelis themselves, but about the rightwing extremist policies of the Israeli government which oppose freedom and justice for Palestinian Christians and Muslims. Israel’s government opposes the Two-State Solution, and even has oppressed and harassed many Jewish Americans who support peace based on compromise, including most recently Jewish journalist Peter Beinart.
This Tribune story from Jan. 20, 1998 is the extent of the news media’s coverage of an incident that was so incendiary to the Arab and Muslim community, but that means nothing to the Chicago Tribune, the regional news media or to Pritzker:
Local representatives of the American Muslim Council on Monday accused congressional candidate J.B. Pritzker of making racial slurs against Muslim Americans and Indian Americans.
Pritzker, running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Illinois’ 9th District, had charged one of his opponents, state Sen. Howard Carroll (D-Chicago), with accepting money from a group that Pritzker said has been supportive of the anti-Israeli terrorist organization Hamas. Pritzker made the accusations after learning Carroll attended a Friday fundraiser that he said was sponsored by leaders of the American Muslim Council.
The Tribune story continued, that when Carroll demanded that Pritzker apologize. But instead of apologizing, Pritzker brushed it off as unimportant:
Pritzker defended his remarks, saying the U.S. leader of the American Muslim Council has endorsed Hamas. And a Pritzker spokesman said the charges were based on an article published in a Jewish newspaper in New York.
The media rarely covers the Arab or Muslim community unless it is a negative story. So very little was written. Had the remark attacked a Jewish group or another ethnic group, the Tribune probably would have turned it into a Constitutional Crises splashing a screaming headline about racism across its biased frontpage.
Look up the issue. So little was written about it because the news media is biased and racist against Arabs and Muslims, and that bias and racism against Arabs and Muslims allows politicians like J.B. Pritzker to ignore the criticism. For more than 20 years.
The Reader mentioned it in a small paragraph in a long recap of the high profile election, writing:
This month Pritzker lambasted Carroll for taking money from the American Muslim Council, which Pritzker claims supports Hamas, the militant Palestinian group. Moin Kahn, the council’s Illinois representative, had a hand in organizing a fund-raiser for Carroll on January 16, but Kahn condemns Hamas. The national spokesman for the council, Fahhim Abdulhadi, says, “We emphatically condemn every act of terrorism,” though he added that the group takes no position on Hamas. Carroll responded by accusing Pritzker of “race baiting,” trying to tie all Muslims to terrorists.
Moon Khan is one of the best most reputable political activists in the Illinois Muslim community.
Well, that changed and Pritzker tried to address the issue in announcing his candidacy for governor, running against Democrat Chris Kennedy int he March Democratic Primary election. Kennedy ran on a platform that rejected all forms of racism and discrimination, noting that as an Irish American he and his people have been victimized by racism and discrimination.
Pritzker met with a small group of Arab and Muslim activists that he knew and behind closed doors allegedly “apologized.” I’m told he actually tried to explain it away rather than apologizing but who knows, I wasn’t at that “meeting.” But many Arab American activists like Samir Khalil have demanded that Pritzker address the issue head-on as have other candidates.
One local candidate accused of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism is Palos Township Trustee Sharon Brannigan. When confronted by the community, she apologized and has in fact issued three apologies. But, I imagine because she is Republican, apologies don’t matter to the politically driven. I interviewed Brannigan about her remarks and she was convincingly apologetic. I know many Arab Christians and much of the Muslim community, which is forgiving, has accepted her apology and shake their head at the protestors who embarrass the community with their yelling, screaming, and disruptive bullying at Palos Township board meetings preventing the board from acting on more important issues.
But no one is bullying Pritzker. Khalil has said only that Pritzker should address the issue publicly with courage, and not try to bury it in the hopes it won’t hurt his election chances.
Pritzker should publicly address the issue, even if it is 20 years old. It’s the elephant in the room that everyone sees and that won’t go away.
He should apologize. It will be interesting to see how his apology is treated by some members of the community who seem to think apologies are insignificant.
I think they are important. Any candidate who wants the support of the Arab and Muslim community should speak to the community directly, not through their small group of cronies and pals.
Pritzker should issue a public apology.
Here are the results from that 1998 congressional election, suggesting the racism wasn’t Pritzker’s only issue.
|HOUSE DISTRICT 9
(Chicago — North Side Lakefront and suburbs; Evanston)
|*Janice D. “Jan” Schakowsky (D)
|Howard W. Carroll (D)
|Jay “J.B.” Pritzker (D)
Technology firm president
|*Leonard R. Reinebach (R)