Ali Abunimah is a Palestinian American who co-founded Electronic Intifada, a website that seeks to discredit what it deems "the prevailing pro-Israeli slant in U.S. media coverage by offering information from a Palestinian perspective." With close ties to the International Solidarity Movement, Electronic Intifada refers to Israel's 1948 creation as Al Nakba (Arabic for "The Catastrophe").
Abunimah also serves as a board member of the Chicago-based Arab American Action Network (AAAN), whose mission -- "to challenge government policies that violate the civil, political and human rights of the Arab American and Arab immigrant community" -- is rooted firmly in the belief that Arab Americans face widespread discrimination in the United States. In particular, AAAN complains that its eponymous demographic is targeted routinely for "detentions," "deportations," and all manner of "attacks." "Biased reporting, media stereotypes, and the criminalization of Arabs and Muslims" are also matters of great concern, says AAAN. Vis a vis Israel, AAAN laments "the compelling and continuing tragedy of Palestinian life ... under [Israeli] occupation," and, like Electronic Intifada, refers to Israel's creation as Al Nakba.
In Abunimah's calculus, Palestinian violence and terrorism is caused entirely by Israel's "land confiscation," its "ongoing orgy of violence," and its "routine human-rights abuses" that have "made life under a seemingly endless occupation so intolerable."
According to Abunimah, "Zionist leaders, academics, and propagandists are actually professional, malicious liars as much as they are violent, merciless murderers." From that premise, Abunimah reasons: "[I]f lying is Israel's best policy, … shouldn't the world … doubt the Zionists' official stories about … the holocaust, for example? … Indeed, if Zionists could lie about their present and ongoing torment of my [Palestinian] people, usurpation of my homeland and arrogation of my rights, and they do it rather obscenely, couldn't they likewise lie, equally obscenely, about the holocaust, an event that took place over half a century ago?"
In the late 1990s, Abunimah met Barack Obama for the first time when the latter was a representative in the Illinois state senate. "He [Obama] impressed me as progressive, intelligent and charismatic," says Abunimah. "I distinctly remember thinking, 'if only a man of this caliber could become president one day.'"
In 2001 and 2002, the Woods Fund of Chicago, whose board of directors included Barack Obama, made grants totaling $75,000 to Abunimah's AAAN.
Said Abunimah in March 2007: "Over the years since I first saw Obama speak, I met him about half a dozen times, often at Palestinian and Arab-American community events in Chicago including a May 1998 community fundraiser at which Edward Said was the keynote speaker. In 2000, when Obama unsuccessfully ran for Congress I heard him speak at a campaign fundraiser hosted by a University of Chicago professor [Khalidi]." "[Obama] came [to that fundraiser] with his wife," Abunimah recounts. "That's where I had a chance to really talk to him. It was an intimate setting. He convinced me he was very aware of the issues [and] critical of U.S. bias toward Israel and lack of sensitivity to Arabs.... He was very supportive of U.S. pressure on Israel." "On that occasion and others," Abunimah has written, "Obama was forthright in his criticism of U.S. policy and his call for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."
In January 2008, Abunimah told interviewer Amy Goodman: "I knew Barack Obama for many years as my state senator -- when he used to attend events in the Palestinian community in Chicago all the time. I remember personally introducing him onstage in 1999, when we had a major community fundraiser for the community center in Deheisha refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. And that's just one example of how Barack Obama used to be very comfortable speaking up for and being associated with Palestinian rights and opposing the Israeli occupation."
In March 2007 Abunimah alleged, with displeasure, that Obama had become more sympathetic to Israel in recent years. Said Abunimah: "If disappointing, given his historically close relations to Palestinian-Americans, Obama's about-face is not surprising. He is merely doing what he thinks is necessary to get elected and he will continue doing it as long as it keeps him in power."
"The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood," Abunimah added. "He was in the midst of a primary campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat he now occupies. But at that time polls showed him trailing. As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, 'Hey, I'm sorry I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I'm hoping when things calm down I can be more up front.' He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the The Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and U.S. policy, 'Keep up the good work!'"
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