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The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) was founded in 1980 by James Zogby and James Abourezk (a South Dakota Democrat who was the first Arab American to serve in the U.S. Senate, from 1973-79) as a non-religious civil rights group “which welcomes people of all backgrounds, faiths and ethnicities as members.” It was created in imitation of, and even as a rival or counterweight to, the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights organization.
ADC in 2004 contributed $1,000 to the congressional campaign of Cynthia McKinney (D – Georgia). Samer Khalaf (Chairman of the ADC Political Outreach Committee in New Jersey) and Hareth Raddawi (a Board member of ADC’s Chicago branch) made personal contributions to McKinney’s campaign as well.
ADC originally concentrated its attentions on Christian Arab Americans, who make up a majority of the Arab American population, and established chapters on campuses and in communities across the U.S. The organization currently has at least 35 local offices in the United States. Its President since 2003 has been Mary Rose Oakar, whose predecessor was Dr. Ziad Asali. ADC’s current Executive Vice President is Khalil Jahshan.
ADC identifies five major objectives that govern its activities:
(a) “Empowering Arab Americans”: A key means of achieving this is voter registration in large numbers.
(b) “Promoting civic participation”
(c) “Supporting freedom and development in the Arab World”
(d) “Defending the civil rights of all people of Arab heritage in the United States”: After the beginning of the U.S. war on terror, a perceptible shift occurred in the orientation and activities of ADC. It suddenly became a strident voice protesting what it said were plans by the Bush administration to curtail the civil liberties of Arab Americans. It depicted all anti-terrorism efforts by the Justice and Treasury Departments as unfair persecution based on ethnic discrimination. And it endorsed the Civil Liberties Restoration Act of 2004, which was designed to roll back, in the name of protecting civil liberties, vital national-security policies that had been adopted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
ADC was a co-plaintiff in the first major legal challenge to a section of the Patriot Act -- specifically Section 215, which allows for government access to such information as medical, educational, and library records pursuant to a terrorism investigation. The organization has also endorsed the Community Resolution to Protect Civil Liberties campaign, which tries to influence city councils to pass resolutions of noncompliance with the provisions of the Patriot Act.
ADC was a signatory to a March 17, 2003 letter exhorting members of the U.S. Congress to oppose Patriot Act II on grounds that it contained “a multitude of new and sweeping law enforcement and intelligence gathering powers … that would severely dilute, if not undermine, many basic constitutional rights.” Fellow signers included the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the American Library Association, the Arab American Institute, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Immigrant Defense Project of the New York State Defenders Association, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Mennonite Central Committee, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Council of La Raza, the National Immigration Law Center, the National Lawyers Guild, People for the American Way, and Women Against War.
The Georgia and San Francisco chapters of ADC were signatories to a February 20, 2002 document condemning military tribunals and the detention of immigrants apprehended in connection with post-9/11 terrorism investigations. The document accused the U.S. government of rounding up and incarcerating large numbers of Arab, Muslim and South Asian immigrants without cause.
(e) ADC's fifth major objective is “Encouraging a balanced U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East”: In effect, this means discouraging American support for Israel, which ADC views as an oppressor nation that routinely violates the human rights of Palestinians. In August 2006 ADC drew up, for its supporters to sign, a petition that read: “If the United States is to be taken seriously as a peace making nation, it cannot continue to provide the weapons being used by Israel to kill hundreds of innocent people in such brutal and inhumane ways.” In ADC's view, America has more than once been guilty of genocide against foreign populations -- sometimes directly through the use of its own military might, and in other cases indirectly, through Israel.
In 1994, then-ADC President Hamzi Moghrabi said, “I will not call [Hamas] a terrorist organization. I mean, I know many people in Hamas. They are very respectable … I don’t believe Hamas, as an organization, is a violent organization.” Two years later, his successor, Hala Maksoud, defended Hamas’ partner in Mideastern terrorism, Hezbollah. “I find it shocking,” Maksoud said, “that [one] would include Hezbollah in … [an] inventory of Middle East ‘terrorist’ groups.” In 2000, new ADC President Hussein Ibish characterized Hezbollah as “a disciplined and responsible liberation force.” James Abourezk called Hamas and Hezbollah “resistance fighters.”
ADC was a signatory to a MAY 20, 2004 Joint Muslims/Arab-American Statement on Israeli Violence in Gaza, which "strongly condemn[ed]" Israel's "indiscriminate killings of innocent Palestinians, including many children," and its "demolition of Palestinian homes." The organization has also expressed its view that Israel’s security barrier in the West Bank is an illegal "apartheid wall." As noted by Debbie Schlussel, when Israel released hundreds of Hezbollah prisoners in early 2004, Imad Hamad, ADC’s Midwest Regional Director, openly celebrated the freedom of "the Heroes." This sentiment was consistent with ADC's longstanding pattern of praising both Hezbollah and Hamas.
ADC formerly ran ads in its publication ADC Times for the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, which in 2001 President Bush shut down for funneling millions of dollars to Hamas.
ADC is composed of five major departments:
(a) The Legal Department is staffed by a team of full-time attorneys who provide advice and referrals “whenever Arab Americans face discrimination.” “Since the attacks of September 11,” ADC laments, “our … community is becoming increasingly vulnerable. The documentation of hate crimes or discrimination based on ethnicity, nationality or religion is important to our community as a collective.”
ADC is particularly opposed to law-enforcement making any distinctions on the basis of race or ethnicity, and thus “has been on the forefront working against racial profiling since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.” According to ADC, profiling has become so widespread in the post-9/11 era, that Arab Americans, Muslims, and South Asians can rightfully be considered “among the secondary victims of the attacks …” ADC’s opposition to profiling long predates 9/11, however. In 1993 the organization joined forces with the American Civil Liberties Union to sue Pan American World Airways for having detained a man of Iranian descent during the first Persian Gulf War. “Arab Americans will not tolerate such blatant acts of corporate discrimination which unfairly treat us as a suspect class of criminals and terrorists,” said ADC President Albert Mokhiber.
(b) The Education Department “works with schools, teachers and Arab-American parents across the country to combat discrimination and tensions in school and ensure that the curriculum does not perpetuate stereotypes or misinformation about the Arab world or Islam.” Says ADC: “Popular culture aimed at children is replete with negative images of Arab women ... and Arab men … American textbooks are often Eurocentric, while Arab points of view regarding such issues as the nationalization of resources or the Arab-Israeli conflict are presented inadequately or not at all.”
To combat these perceived problems, ADC encourages teachers and administrators to “include Arab Americans and the Arab world in your multicultural curriculum”; to “teach students to appreciate the Arab world, one of the great cultures when Europe was still a backward, under-developed region on the periphery of world civilization”; to have students “write letters of concern about anti-Arab incidents and media stereotyping”; to “recognize Ramadan and other Muslim holidays”; to “arrange the state and school schedule to avoid Islamic holidays”; and “not to order pepperoni sausage for the class pizza party.”
(c) The Organizing Department “mobilizes the [Arab American] community by coordinating the efforts of chapters, local offices and activists across the nation, and directing ADC's national campaigns.”
(d) The Governmental Affairs Department “works with Congress, the White House, the State and Justice Departments, and other elements of government to promote the interests of the [Arab American] community.” It has established a political action committee, to which members can contribute in support of candidates for public office.
(e) The Communications Department “combats defamation, stereotyping and bias in films, television and news reporting …”
Just as ADC’s domestic civil rights posture shifted dramatically after 9/11, so did its positions on foreign affairs. For example, before September 11th ADC had never seriously concerned itself with the suffering of Muslims in the Balkans or Chechnya. However, during the Afghan and Iraq interventions, the Committee became most outspoken in painting these military operations as conspiratorial intrigues controlled by Israel. To register its opposition to America’s foreign wars, ADC became a member organization of the United for Peace and Justice and Win Without War anti-war coalitions. The Committee also became a leading defender of Palestinian “martyrdom” campaigns inside Israel; of Saudi Arabia, whose role in funding Wahhabism had come under scrutiny; and of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime, which it characterized as innocent of terrorist associations.
ADC receives financial backing from the Boston Foundation, the General Motors Foundation, the Public Welfare Foundation, the San Francisco Foundation, and the Joseph R. and Helen Shaker Family Foundation. The group has also received Saudi funds through third parties such as mosques and charitable organizations.
ADC is notable not only for its programs and campaigns, but also for its open expressions of support for some controversial figures. For instance, in 1987 the Committee honored filmmaker Michael Moore for his “courageous efforts in journalism.” A decade and a half later, when University of South Florida professor Sami-Al Arian was indicted on terrorism-related charges, ADC’s Hussein Ibish depicted FBI investigations of Al-Arian “a political witch hunt, a vendetta, and a kind of very, very ugly post-9/11 McCarthyism.”
In 2016, ADC condemned a website called "Don’t Be a Puppet," which the FBI had recently established to teach people about: (a) the dangers of different types of extremism, and (b) various atrocities that terrorists had committed in the past, including the 9/11 attacks of 2001 and the Oklahoma City bombing (by anti-government extremist Timothy McVeigh) of 1995. Structured as a game in which students could compete, the website discussed extremism in general rather than Islamist extremism in particular. (The site's originally scheduled launch date of November 2015 had been delayed by several months in order to accomodate the demands of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which insisted that all references to Islamic extremism and Islam be removed; the 9/11 terrorists, for example, were re-identified simply as “Al-Qaeda extremists.”) In coalition with the American Association of School Administrators and the American Federation of Teachers, the ADC in August 2016 wrote a letter to FBI Director James Comey saying it was “deeply troubled” by what it perceived as the website's unfair targeting of Muslim students.
ADC and its Research Institute have received funding from George Soros's Open Society Institute.
Small portions of this profile are adapted from the article "An Activist’s Guide to Arab and Muslim Campus and Community Organizations in North America," written by Stephen Schwartz, and published by FrontPageMagazine.com on May 26, 2003.