Arab Americans flex muscles at AAPAC annual banquet
By Samer Hijazi | Thursday, 10.29.2015, 09:27 PM

A group photo of honorees and AAPAC officials
DEARBORN — The Arab American community’s political achievements were heard loud and clear on Wednesday October 28 at the Arab American Political Action Committee’s (AAPAC) 18th annual banquet at the Bint Jebail Cultural Center, as several Arab American elected officials stood on the stage to be recognized.

AAPAC gathered more than a dozen Arab American candidates who were elected to public office in previous years after being endorsed by the organization. Many of these elected officials are, or were, also AAPAC members themselves.

The Arab American officials on the stage included Dearborn School Board Trustees Mariam Bazzi and Fadwa Alawieh Hammoud, Dearborn City Council President Susan Dabaja, Dearborn Councilman Mike Sareini, 19th District Court Judge Sam Salamey, 20th District Court Judge David Turfe, Dearborn Heights City Councilman Tom Berry, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, Wayne County Comissioner Al Haidous and Wayne County Circuit Court Judges David Allen, Charlene M. Elder and Adel Harb.  Former Hamtramck Councilman Abdel Gazali was recognized posthumously.

Since its establishment in 1998, AAPAC has consisted of Arab American professionals who organize and encourage the political activities of Arab Americans regardless of party affiliation. Every election cycle, the organization meets with candidates who requested its endorsement before making its decision based on the candidate's history and his or her stand on issues important to thge Arab American community.  It also encourages voter turnout in the community.

Since this year was an off-election cycle year, AAPAC President Ali Hammoud said members wanted to celebrate the achievements of the community. It was an opportunity to step back and applaud the political accomplishments of Arab Americans. When the organization was first established, an Arab American in office was a rare feat.

Now, both Arab American candidates and Arab American voters have proven their strengths in the political process.

"I’m proud to be standing under this banner tonight as we celebrate what can be achieved as an ethnic community that became fully engaged in the political life of this country," Hammoud said. "This organization has endorsed individuals who brought with them spirit, talent, culture, values and commitment to impact and honor the privileges provided by this nation."

The Arab American News Publisher Osama Siblani, who serves as the chair of the public relations committe in AAPAC,  discussed the importance of voting. He urged the community to elect only qualified candidates. Siblani said AAPAC is backing two candidates on Nov. 3, in what is considered the most important election this year for the Arab community.

The organization has thrown its support behind Dearborn Heights City Council candidates Wassim "Dave" Abdallah and Ned Apigian, both vying for one of the three available city council seats.

Siblani said AAPAC doesn’t only aim to elect Arabs into office; it’s always open to working with other leaders as well.

He said Arab Americans should be welcoming to the idea of forming coalitions with groups outside of their community. He also warned against divisions, saying local Arabs should set an example to the people of the Middle East by rising above their differences and not import Middle East differences into this country.

"There’s strength in unity and we need unity in the Arab American community," he said.

AAPAC vice presidents, attorney Zena Elhassan and real estate agent Sam Baydoun, introduced current Arab American elected officials as they came on stage.

AAPAC also recognized former elected officials, including former State Representative Rashida Tlaib, former Dearborn City Councilwoman Suzanne Sareini and former Dearborn Board of Education Trustee Hussein Berry.

Other dignitaries in attendance included Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, former Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, Dearborn Superintendent Glen Maleyko, Henry Ford College President Stan Jensen, Wayne County Commissioner Gary Woronchak and State Senator David Knezek.

Former State Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer delivered a powerful speech as the keynote speaker.

Whitmer said immigrants have played a key role in the state’s history through shaping its communities and economy.

She noted that she and Gov. Snyder agree that the state should play a key role in harboring immigrants from Syria by welcoming them and giving them the tools to succeed as Americans.

Keynote Speaker Gretchen Whitmer
"Our state’s tradition in welcoming families from all over the world is an important part of our legacy," Whitmer said. "We see that tradition continue today right here in our Arab American community. Proud families coming to Michigan to make their lives better and make their communities better and in turn, make our state a better place for all."

She applauded the U.S. Attorney’s office for upholding the the first amendment by filing a lawsuit against Pittsfield Charter Township, which denied an Islamic Academy from building an institution on a property, citing zoning issues.

Whitmer said it was frightening to see such xenophobic and bigoted propaganda against Muslims and other minority groups take center stage in public office. She said hate speech has become a political platform for presidential candidates.

"I don’t know how this happened and I don’t know how this became acceptable," Whitmer said. "These are not principled policy differences that are being debated. It’s blatant Islamophobia and it’s unacceptable. It’s certainly beneath the office of the president of the United States and it represents the worst in what is considered political discourse these days."

Whitmer also saluted AAPAC for the role it gave women in the community. "There are a lot of really amazing women in this room here today.

The increased involvement of women in AAPAC is a great example of strength of diversity not just serving as a talking point, but something that serves as a benefit to an organization such as this one. And believe me, there are a lot of organizations that could learn from your example." She continued:

"Women are stepping up like never before and taking their well-deserved seat at the table and those of you doing so here today are doing the same. You’re saying your voice matters in your community and you are being heard. I’m so excited to see that take place here today and every day as I travel across the state.  Congratulations to all of you for being an outstanding example of that." 

By Samer Hijazi

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