Kennedy will respect Arabs, Muslims as Illinois governor
Illinois gubernatorial candidate Christopher Kennedy told a gathering of influential Arab and Muslim community activists Saturday that he would defend their rights as Americans and respect their cultural and religious identities. Kennedy said when his family immigrated to America, they faced the same racism and discrimination now facing Arabs and Muslims
By Ray Hanania
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Christopher Kennedy told a gathering of influential Arabs and Muslims on Saturday that he personally understands their experiences fighting racism and discrimination and vowed to defend their rights if elected governor next year.
The candidate’s forum is one of several hosted by the Muslim American Task Force AMT PAC at Reza’s Restaurant in Oak Brook allowing candidate for governor to answer questions. The group is headed by veteran Arab and Muslim activists Salman Aftab and Abder Ghouleh.
Kennedy drew strong empathy from the audience as he shared his family’s experience with racism and discrimination, and acknowledged when asked that despite personal tragedy involving the assassination of his father, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, he could not and society should not judge an entire community by the actions of one individual.
“You can’t blame an entire people for the act of one person,” Kennedy said, noting that he shared that view with many American leaders.
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“I do think that is not a Kennedy belief or a Democratic belief. Look at even President Bush. After 9/11 he said listen, this isn’t a Muslim thing. It’s an isolated group of people. Let’s be clear on that. Maybe it gets lost. Maybe it wasn’t emphasized by enough people. Maybe it wasn’t echoed locally. We cant judge each other by the act of one person.”
Robert Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Arab immigrant angry with American support of Israel, while campaigning for president 50 years ago on June 5, 1968. (Many Americans believe Sirhan is Muslim and they blamed all Arabs and Muslims, but he was Orthodox Christian.)
In asking my question about his views on Arabs and Muslims in light of his father’s assassination, I noted that many candidates for political office campaign on the promise of being fair to Arabs and Muslims in America, in Illinois and in Chicago. But when they get into office, they break that promise and exclude Arabs and Muslims from engagement.
There is an irony, I said. By addressing an audience of Arabs and Muslims, at one of many appearances he has made during the campaign, Kennedy added resonance to assurances that he would not allow stereotypes, racism or fears allow him to exclude Arabs and Muslims from participating in state office as have other candidates who have won public office including Republican Governor Bruce Rauner.
Kennedy responded without hesitation, making it clear that his views come as a result of direct experience with racism and discrimination that his family faced after immigrating to this country from Ireland.
Kennedy said his family immigrated to America “as a family and we were treated as ignorant, dirty, and stupid and unteachable and a threat to society, and more than that as a threat to American security. They wouldn’t let the Irish have jobs even in Boston. It was unbelievable.”
Kennedy’s family heritage dates back to the middle of the 18th Century when his great great grandfather immigrated to America and settled in Boston. His son, John Francis “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, Chris Kennedy’s Great Grand father, was born during the Civil War and years later was elected Mayor of Boston. Despite holding high public office, the Fitzgerald’s continued to face racial discrimination and stereotypes in Boston society.
Chris Kennedy’s grandmother, Rose Fitzgerald, Mayor Fitzgerald’s daughter, married Joseph Kennedy in 1914. They had many children including John F. Kennedy, who became president in 1960, and Chris Kennedy’s father, who became a U.S. Senator in 1964.
Kennedy said his grandmother experienced racism first hands, noting many businesses had signs above their doors in America that read “NINA,” which Kennedy translated to mean “No Irish Need Apply.”
“The person who told me about those days was my grandmother, Rose Kennedy. She would say to us as young children, you are growing up in this fancy community with these nice houses and great wealth. But that is not who are people are. That is not where we came from,” Christopher Kennedy related to the audience.
“She was the daughter of the first Irish Catholic American-born Mayor of Boston, John Frances Fitzgerald, ‘Honey Fitz’. He is mayor of Boston and she can’t get into the clubs. She can’t go to the schools. They won’t let her friends work. She grows up and there are those signs that say NINA, and she sits us down as young children, as teenagers, as adults and says never let that happen. Do not become one of them. Don’t do to others what they did to us.”
Kennedy vowed to represent all of the people of Illinois if elected Governor in next year’s election including Arabs and Muslims who have been the target of racism and discrimination and exclusion from government institutions and engagement.
Kennedy faces Pritzker and Biss in the Democratic Primary election to be held on March 20, 2018. The winner of the primary will go on to face Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner who has defined himself as one of the most anti-Arab and anti-Muslim governors in Illinois.
While Rauner and Biss have embraced anti-Arab and anti-Muslim legislation that punishes individuals who criticize a foreign country, Israel, Kennedy has been on the forefront fighting for equal rights.
Kennedy said fighting for immigrant rights was a family tradition dating back to the legislative policies of his father, and uncles President Kennedy and Senator Ted Kennedy.
As a congressman before becoming President in 1960, John F. Kennedy served as a congressman and actively urged the support of the separation of Algeria from French colonial control, against the wishes of the Democratic Party leadership.
He said his Uncle Ted Kennedy, as a U.S. Senator, helped push immigration reform legislation in Congress in 1965 to ease restrictions that targeted many immigrants including those from the Middle East.
When I was young, there were not people who looked like you. And that changed in 1965. It’s good for America. Great things happen as a result of letting immigrants come into this country. So many great things happen as a result of allowing the great geniuses of the world become a part of our country.
Kennedy said the despite winning the Presidential election in 1960, President Kennedy faced stiff opposition from his own party because of his strong liberal views on immigration and minorities, and because of Kennedy’s Irish immigrant heritage.
“They said we don’t want you in office because you are not one of us,” Chris Kennedy recalled. Kennedy said his father, Senator Robert F. Kennedy “ran for president in 1968 against President Johnson because Johnson was sending to Vietnam the poor and people of color in disproportional numbers to everyone else and my father opposes that.”
Kennedy ended his address telling the audience, “At least in Illinois we can make the dream a dream for all Americans.”
Aftab said AMTPAC will invite all of the candidates for governor, including Democrats J.B. Pritzker, Daniel Biss and even Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, to appear at future forums and address issues of concerns to American Arabs and American Muslims.
AMT PAC is a coalition of several Arab and Muslim American organizations which are 501 C3 charitable groups which do not endorse candidates for political office. But, he said, AMT PAC can endorse candidates and, after hearing the views of all the candidates, would make a formal endorsement.
“Every election cycle we hold candidate forums and we do endorse candidates. But we invite all of the candidates to appear and speak about the issues” Aftab said.
“In the last couple of years, the Muslim American community has witnessed a rise in Islamophobia. So our agenda is to support candidates who will work with us and form our Muslim Advisory Councils to address these issues.”
Aftab has been very active with other leaders including former Judge Bill Hadded who heads AMVOTE PAC (American Middle East Voter’s Alliance) in engaging Arabs and Muslims in the voting process. Haddad also said his organization has not yet issued an endorsement but would hear the views of all candidates first.
Aftab said he was disappointed in Rauner when the governor dismissed the Illinois Muslim Advisory Council, despite a resolution adopted by the Chicago City Council urging him to reinstate it.
“There are more than 400,000 Muslims in Illinois and we are asking you to support the creation of a Muslim Advisory Council in Illinois,” Aftab said.
Kennedy noted that only 447,000 people voted in the Democratic primary for governor on March 18, 2014, “So if all 400,000 Muslims in Illinois vote, your community can decide who wins the Democratic Party nomination.”
Chris Kennedy has already been endorsed for governor by at least one major Arab and Muslim American organization, the Arab American Democratic Club of Chicagoland which is headed by Samir Khalil.
Khalil noted that AADC held a forum earlier in the year in which all of the candidates for governor had been invited to speak including Kennedy and Biss. Pritzker declined the AADC invite. Khalil said AADC will hold a fundraiser rally for Christopher Kennedy at the Saraya Restaurant in Worth, Illinois on November 8, 2017.
“AADC supports Chris Kennedy for governor 100 percent because we believe he is fair, has the experience to help put Illinois on a stronger economic footing, and is sensitive to the concerns of Arabs and Muslims who work in Illinois, live in Illinois and who have served this country in the military as Americans from Illinois,” Khalil said after the AMTPAC meeting.
Click here to view an edited video of Kennedy’s remarks on racism faced by his family and the question regarding the assassination of his father, or use the widget below:
Hanania also writes about Middle East issues for the Arab News, and The Arab Daily News criticizing government policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A critic of mainstream news media bias, Hanania advocates for peace & justice for Israel & Palestine, & the empowerment of Arabs in America.
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Hanania's columns are archived on his personal website at RayHanania.com. Hanania was named "Best Ethnic American Columnist" by the New America Media in November 2007, and is the 2009 recipient of the SPJ National Sigma Delta Chi Award for column writing.
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