Elias Rashmawi is the national coordinator for the National Council of Arab Americans (NCA), an organization that purports to fight discrimination against American Arabs and Muslims while masking the true targets of its disdain: the United States and Israel. A radical Palestinian activist, the Gaza-born Rashmawi became an American by default: Aiming to put a stop to Rashmawi’s organizing of militant Palestinian groups while studying in the U.S., the Israeli High Court issued an order for his permanent deportation in 1997. That has kept Rashmawi out of Gaza, but has not dampened his extremist fervor. He regularly supports speakers who countenance Palestinian suicide bombings; he supports anti-Israel divestment campaigns; he denounces “Israeli apartheid”; he accuses the United States of using the war on terrorism as a pretext for establishing dominion over the entire Middle East; and he invariably accuses his political and ideological adversaries of engaging in anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry. In August 2004, for instance, when a Federal District Court in New York City refused (because of a scheduling conflict) to issue the Council a protest permit to hold a rally, Rashmawi and the NCA charged that the civil liberties of Muslims and Arabs had been trampled.
Today, Rashmawi is a key figure in the increasingly extremist pro-Palestinian movement. Besides heading the NCA, he is a member of the steering committee of the International A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition, the vice president of the Greater Sacramento area chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), and a member of the national steering committee of the Free Palestine Alliance (FPA). He is also a member of Al-Awda, a Northern California group whose pro-Palestinian advocacy often boils over into outright support for terrorism. The group’s founding statement, a largely incoherent indictment of “Zionist apartheid, racism, and settler-colonialism in Palestine,” also defends Palestinian terrorism, arguing that “the Palestinian resistance is justified by natural principles of liberty and international laws protecting such liberties.” This is a consistent theme within the group. In 2003, Al-Awda issued a statement pledging its “support for the struggle of the Palestinian people, currently spearheaded by the Intifada.” The group also called for the release of Palestinian terrorists, whom it termed “political prisoners,” from Israeli and Palestinian jails.
Rashmawi’s support for terrorism goes beyond his membership in Al-Awda. In December 2003, one month after having founded the NCA, he helped organize a conference in Cairo where A.N.S.W.E.R. leaders and hundreds of international and Arab activists assembled to cheer what they termed “acts of resistance in Iraq and Palestine.” So that there would be no confusion about precisely which “acts” were being celebrated, a special guest was in attendance: Osama Hamdan, the head of a Lebanon-based Hamas faction and an outspoken proponent of suicide bombing. Rashmawi and the A.N.S.W.E.R. delegation met with Hamdan. For his part, Rashmawi has been careful to avoid making any incriminating remarks about supporting terrorism, but his colleagues have been clear about their position on the issue. Following the April 2004 assassination of Hamas kingpin Abdel Aziz Rantisi, Rama Kased (Rashmawi’s fellow member at Al-Awda) had high praise for the slain terrorist leader, saying, “Abdel Aziz Rantisi was a son of Palestine, a refugee, and a symbol of resistance against a racist apartheid regime.” Through the NCA, Rashmawi is working to radicalize a new generation of Palestinian activists. In a series of inflammatory speeches he gave in May 2001, Rashmawi incited Palestinian Students in Davis, California to rise up against “Israeli apartheid,” and exhorted the University of California at Berkeley to divest millions of dollars in companies that support Israel. The effects of his provocation were immediate and destructive. Within days, Palestinian students stormed a campus hall to demand divestment before finally being arrested by police. The next morning, some Arab student arsonists burned an Israeli flag and set fire to the roof of the campus Hillel house (Hillel is an organization for Jewish students). When the Hillel director told reporters that he thought Arab groups had been involved in the crime, Rashmawi unleashed a stream of heated vituperation, denouncing both Hillel and the Anti-Defamation League as “two hard-core Zionist organizations.” He did not condemn the arson. Instead, borrowing a page from the NCA manual, Rashmawi screamed racism. “[T]o place our community in the seat of the accused as a fifth column in the U.S. . . [T]he Hillel accusations are racist and bigoted, and, most importantly, are politically motivated,” he raged.
In the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war, Rashmawi rallied countless supporters to the anti-Israel cause by claiming that the war would clear the way for Israel’s imminent ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. “Unless challenged globally, Palestinian mass transfer is imminent,” Rashmawi insisted. “Palestine, a primary hurdle to global domination, is indeed in the crosshairs of imperial designs.” In April 2004, with the United States pushing for an exit strategy from Iraq, Rashmawi continued to conjure nightmare visions of imperial hegemony. “In Iraq, the design is to break up the nation’s unity and sovereignty under an imposed de-Arabized neo-colonial system of government,” he said. “Washington and friends hope to secure all the resources and geo-positioning, and damned be the Arabs should they get in the way.”
That scenario resonated powerfully with radicals and pro-Palestinian extremists alike. Through the NCA, Rashmawi has successfully tethered conspiracy theories about the Western oppression of Arabs –– a standby of pro-Palestinian radicals –– to the durable twin pillars of leftist thought: disdain for Western values and contempt for democratic capitalism. Here, for example, is how Rashmawi recently answered a question about whether powerful corporate families orchestrated the Iraq war. “I don’t think there is a group of families [behind it all], but that’s just my personal opinion. I think that it’s more of an economic structure that sometimes families become a part of.”
With rhetoric like this, Rashmawi has maneuvered the NCA into a prime spot among leftwing groups; the NCA is now a regular participant at most anti-war rallies. It holds fast to its anti-Western, anti-Israeli agenda, and its terrorist sympathies. Yet the media largely echo the NCA’s description of itself as a well-intentioned group of Arab-Americans who hope only to “end racial and religious profiling and advance equal rights for Arabs and Muslims in the United States.”