WASHINGTON: Civil rights champions and representatives of the Biden administration joined nearly 400 Arab American leaders and activists to celebrate the 43rd anniversary of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee over the weekend in Washington D.C.

Among dozens of speakers who addressed the three-day conference were Ben Crump, civil rights attorney; Alejandro Mayorkas, Department of Homeland Security secretary; Jim Moran, who championed Arab American rights while in Congress from 1991 to 2015; and Sam Rasoul, Virginia legislator.

Calling Arab Americans “brothers and sisters in the struggle for civil rights,” Crump urged the ADC to continue its civil rights campaign for equality and not be discouraged by challenges that seek to “undermine” their rights.

“My grandmother taught me as a little boy, she said, ‘when you get a chance to speak truth to power, you do it.’ She said it doesn’t matter if people are saying it’s controversial, it doesn’t matter if people are saying it’s unpopular, it doesn’t matter if people are saying it’s inconvenient,” said Crump, who has represented families of many high-profile victims of police violence in the US — including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor — and represented the residents of Flint, Michigan, who were affected by the poisoned waters of the Flint River.

Arab Americans and African Americans are fighting “a war against the enemies of equality,” Crump added.

During a panel discussion on changes in the Arab world and the role of the Biden administration, Moran said American influence in the region is “waning,” adding: “I don’t think the US has provided the kind of leadership that we’re capable of providing.”

He said: “There are three reasons why we’ve engaged in the region. The principal one was energy — we needed to make sure we could have a supply of oil. The second reason is we wanted to be competitive in the Cold War … And the third reason is Israel … I think much of what we’ve done has been for the wrong reasons.”

Other speakers included Dima Khalidi, who heads Palestine Legal, which monitors Israeli human rights violations in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Khalidi told the gathering that the number of US states that have approved legislation punishing anyone who refuses to renounce calls for a boycott of Israel has risen to 35.

Huwaida Arraf, founder of the International Solidarity Movement, which has challenged Israel’s apartheid policies against Palestinians, detailed how she was attacked as being “antisemitic” for making a passing reference defending Palestinian rights during a speech at Bloomfield High School in Detroit.

Arraf, who made a strong but unsuccessful run for the US Congress in Michigan last year, said the criticism resulted in the removal of two of the high school’s top administrators.

Mayorkas said in a video speech that the Biden administration is committed to defending the rights of all Americans, including Arabs and Muslims.

ADC President Abed Ayoub and Safa Rifka, chairman of the board, detailed plans to expand the organization’s advocacy, including launching student chapters at universities and colleges to defend the rights of Arab students who have become targets of pro-Israel attacks and censorship.

They also announced the creation of a new Public Affairs Scholarship named in honor of the late US Sen. James Abourezk, who founded the ADC.

Rifka and Ayoub announced that the organization is seeking to build a new Cultural and Heritage Center in Washington D.C., and are launching a program to help Arab American-owned businesses qualify for federal contracts similar to the Minority Business Enterprises laws that set aside billions in contract awards for designated minority groups.

The ADC presented several awards during the event, including the Defender of Justice Award to Crump, and the Exemplary Achievement Award to Qatar for its hosting of the 2022 World Cup, accepted by the country’s Ambassador to the US Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Rifka said: “The State of Qatar has set a new standard in hosting global events while preserving and promoting the essence of Arab culture.

“We’re thrilled to honor them with the Exemplary Achievement Award, as their dedication to fostering cross-cultural understanding and unity within the Arab community is truly inspiring.”

Entertainment was presented by a dabkeh troupe and Michigan standup comedian Amer Zahr.

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