Established in 1995 to promote “equity and social justice” for Americans of Arab descent, the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) seeks “to strengthen the Arab community in the Chicago area by building its capacity to be an active agent for positive social change” through community organizing, advocacy, education, leadership development, cultural outreach, and the provision of social services. To counter what it characterized as the pervasive “biased reporting, media stereotypes, and the criminalization of Arabs and Muslims,” the Network developed a Speakers’ Bureau of experts who could lead workshops and presentations on these and related issues at schools, universities, churches, community centers, corporations, and public agencies.The founders of AAAN were Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi and his wife, Mona Khalidi.
Headquartered in the heart of Chicago’s large Palestinian community, AAAN views the United States as a nation wherein Arab citizens are routinely maltreated. To remedy this perceived societal injustice, the organization aims “to challenge government policies that violate the civil, political and human rights of the Arab American and Arab immigrant community.” Among these policies are “detentions, deportations, and other attacks on immigrants that result from Homeland Security [measures].”
AAAN holds the state of Israel in deep contempt. The Network’s executive director, Hatem Abudayyeh, rejects the notion that “Hamas, Hezbollah, and the other Palestinian and Lebanese resistance organizations” are “terrorists.” He claims instead that “the real terrorists are the governments and military forces of the U.S. and Israel.” An avid supporter of the Hamas-inspired Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions movement, Abudayyeh candidly favors the “dissolution” of Israel, which he describes as a “racist” “criminal pariah state” that imposes “apartheid” and “naked aggression” on its Arab neighbors.
In early 2005 at DePaul University, AAAN co-sponsored an art exhibit titled “The Subject of Palestine,” which featured Palestinian artwork whose central theme was “the compelling and continuing tragedy of Palestinian life … under [Israeli] occupation” — e.g., “home demolition … statelessness … bereavement … [and] martyrdom.”
AAAN’s hostility toward the Jewish state is further manifested in the organization’s use of the term Al Nakba (“The Catastrophe”) to describe Israel’s creation in 1948. In collaboration with the American Friends Service Committee, AAAN in 2008 initiated a project titled “Al Nakba: 1948 As Experienced by Chicago Palestinians.” This venture solicited photographs, letters, and verbal accounts of local Palestinians’ recollections about the sufferings they had endured immediately before, during, and after Israel’s establishment.
In December 2005, AAAN and numerous other Arab lobby groups composed a letter to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, characterizing a North Carolina/New Mexico joint initiative to deny driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants as a “bigoted attack on Arabs and Muslims.” At issue, said the letter, was “an inflammatory and misleading billboard campaign” that contained “extremely negative images of Arabs and Arab cultural symbols” — images that “utilize[d] false stereotypes and racist rhetoric to promote an anti-immigrant agenda.”
AAAN views America as a nation awash not only in anti-Muslim bigotry, but also in anti-black racism. Thus, when a young white supremacist named Dylann Roof shot and killed nine black parishioners in a South Carolina church in June 2015, the Network lamented that: (a) “this incident of racist violence is the direct result of the political and law-enforcement narrative in this country that demonizes and criminalizes Black communities,” and (b) those communities “are already and consistently targeted by killer police, legislatures that are cutting essential programs and services, and the sensationalist media.”
In August 2015, nearly 100 of AAAN’s members and supporters participated in a “Stop Police Crimes” rally organized by the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, an affiliate of a Communist Party USA front group. Some of the marchers carried banners and posters bearing the slogan: “Arabs Say Now is the Time to Stop Police Crimes.”
AAAN was outraged when Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner announced in November 2015 that his state, in light of a recent attack in which Islamic State terrorists had murdered 130 people in Paris, would temporarily stop accepting Syrian refugees because they could not be properly vetted. By AAAN’s telling, Rauner’s announcement was “based on fear and xenophobia,” would likely “fue[l] racist stereotypes against Arab-American and American Muslim communities in our state,” and would “create an environment where violence and criminalization of all immigrants of color is not just tolerated but validated by elected officials.” When the Chicago city council subsequently passed a resolution to “reaffirm” Chicago’s “status as a sanctuary city … for refugees from all around the world,” AAAN executive director Hatem Abudayyeh said: “We’re heartened to see Chicago’s city council stand up to the culture of hate that’s shown itself in recent days.”
In August 2016, AAAN’s Youth Organizing Program drafted a letter demanding that the FBI “end the use of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs), refuse to partake in CVE (Countering Violent Extremism) programming, and stop placing informants to entrap young people in our community spaces.” The letter also expressed “solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives, which is defending its communities from police killings and mass incarceration.” Additional signatories to the letter included groups like Assata’s Daughters and the Chicago-area chapters of the American Friends Service Committee, Black Lives Matter, the Council on American Islamic Relations, and Students for Justice in Palestine.
AAAN was ecstatic in January 2017 when President Barack Obama commuted the 70-year prison sentence of former terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera of the FALN, a Marxist-Leninist group whose overriding mission was to secure Puerto Rico’s political independence from the United States. In a personal message to Rivera, AAAN executive director Hatem Abudayyeh wrote: “[W]e thank you for your sacrifice, for your principles, and for your strength. You have motivated us to fight unequivocally for our rights and the liberation of our people here and in the homeland.”
AAAN’s former associate director was Rasmea Odeh, a onetime Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine member who famously masterminded a deadly 1969 terrorist attack in Jerusalem. A notable former board member (and vice president) of AAAN is Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada.
Over the years, AAAN has received financial donations from the Albert Pick Jr. Fund, the Alphawood Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust, the Field Foundation of Illinois, the Fry Foundation, the GlaxoSmithKline Foundation, the Pierce Family Foundation, the Polk Brothers Foundation, the Proteus Fund, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Tides Foundation, and the Woods Fund of Chicago. Another noteworthy supporter of the Network was Barack Obama’s onetime mentor, Tony Rezko, who served a number of years in prison for fraud and bribery convictions.
AAAN is closely allied with, and supportive of, the Black Lives Matter movement. The Network also backs the agendas of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.