DEARBORN — With TV cameras and voice recorders rolling, a panel of Arab American and Muslim leaders spoke out about their perceived injustices with presidential campaign John McCain’s treatment of local businessman Ali Jawad.
The press conference, held at the Lebanese American Heritage Club in Dearborn, was set up in response to the McCain campaign’s decision to take blogger Debbie Schlussel’s accusation that Jawad had ties to the militant group Hizbullah seriously. The panel asked for an apology from the McCain campaign and talked about the growing trend of Arab Americans being targeted and accused of wrong-doing with no proof.
“Mr. Jawad is a victim of neo-McCarthyism,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, referring to the slanderous allegations of Communist ties in the late 1940s leveled at government employees. Walid recommended that Jawad seek legal action for defamation of character against Schlussel. Jawad hadn’t decided if he was going to do so, but wasn’t happy about the accusations leveled against him.
McCain’s campaign picked up on the accusations made by Schlussel against Jawad, a prominent contributor to the Republican Party and former finance committee member, and Jawad received two phone calls from McCain’s representatives asking if the rumors were true. Jawad felt that his integrity was being questioned by the party and was stunned that they chose to believe what Schlussel said, especially in light of past anti-Arab and anti-Islam comments she has made on her blog. Jawad asked to have his name removed from the committee list.
One panel member questioned the motives of Schlussel in regards to her other blog postings.
“If you take a look (at her blog), you’d see it’s full of hate messages against Arab American leaders,” said Osama Siblani, president of the Arab American Political Action Committee (AAPAC).
“She’s attacked every one of us.”
Jawad is the president of Armada Oil & Gas Company and founder of the Lebanese American Heritage Club. He was one of six finance committee members invited for a $2,300-a-ticket McCain fund-raising event at the house of wealthy Orchard Lake businessman Peter Karmanos. Jawad also founded the Lebanese American Heritage Club in 1982 and is well-known for being active in the Metro Detroit community, giving scholarships of $1,000 to 70 area kids at a scholarship dinner on Thursday.
While he made the decision on his own to leave the McCain committee, media outlets picked up on the false story that the McCain campaign had parted ways with Jawad. An e-mail from the Republican National committee was posted Schlussel’s blog on April 29th, 2008. It stated that “Ali Jawad is no longer participating in efforts — whether fundraising or otherwise — on behalf of McCain Victory 2008.” But on that same post, Schlussel referred to the decision as “confirmation that Jawad was cut,” and that was how it ended up being reported.
Panel member Walid said that CAIR stood “100% behind Jawad” and wondered why the McCain campaign decided to act so strongly on what amounted to a rumor.
“Anytime someone can bring up an unsubstantiated claim and they act without checking info, you have a problem,” he said.
Siblani also questioned why such a prominent political figure would base decisions on the words of a blogger who most perceive to be biased against Arab Americans.
“I’m concerned that a serious presidential candidate is making hasty decisions and insulting the Arab American community,” he said.
“We do not want a president who is going to make decisions based on false information.”
Siblani reminded the gathered media that Arab Americans who want to show their displeasure with the way Jawad’s situation was handled can do so through the voting booths, calling the situation a “slap in the face” to the community and saying that how the situation is eventually handled by McCain’s campaign could have great bearing on how the Arab American community decides to make use of its votes.
“John McCain is smearing the reputation of Mr. Jawad and slapping our community in the face,” said Siblani.
Jawad considers himself a Republican first and foremost but also said that he has supported a lot of Democrats in the past, including Michigan senator Carl Levin. He takes each candidate on an individual basis, which is why he doesn’t necessarily plan to cut ties with the Republican Party over the McCain incident. But he was shaken up over the incident and awaits an apology from McCain, who visited Michigan this past week.
On Thursday, Jawad said he received a call from James Nicholson, Michigan Finance Chairman of the McCain campaign. Jawad said Nicholson told him the calls he received were from a campaign staff member who acted improperly, and that Nicholson was not aware the calls were being made.
A voicemail message left on Nicholson’s cell phone was not returned as of press time.