April named Arab Heritage Month by new Illinois Law

April named Arab Heritage Month by new Illinois Law
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April named Arab Heritage Month by new Illinois Law

Illinois Legislature passes law to designate April as Arab American Heritage Month. The bill was introduced by Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, and co-sponsored by State Senator Steve Landek and Representative Mike Zalewski. The bill restores respect for Illinois’ Arab American community which was disrespected by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner

By Ray Hanania

The Illinois Legislature has approved a new law that designates April in each year as Arab American Heritage Month. The law was introduced On October 10, 2018 by Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan to recognize the contributions that Arab Americans have made to the state and to this nation.

The bill was co-sponsored in the Illinois by State Representatives Michael J. Zalewski, AndrÈ Thapedi, Juliana Stratton, Elizabeth Hernandez and John C. D’Amico. It was introduced to the Illinois Senate by State Senator Steven Landek and co-sponsored by Senator President John Cullerton and Senators John F. Curran, Jacqueline Y. Collins, Terry Link, Thomas Cullerton, Bill Cunningham and Elgie R. Sims, Jr.

Madigan announced the legislation was introduced during an appearance he made before the Arab American Democratic Club (AADC) on Oct. 21, 2018. At the time, Madigan praised the contributions that Arab Americans have made to both American society as a whole and specifically to the State of Illinois. He recognized Arab Americans who have and continue to serve in the U.S. military defending this country, who are first responders serving in police and fire departments throughout the state, as teachers, businessmen and women, and as taxpayers who continue to make significant contributions to the state.

In past years, Arab American heritage month was recognized by resolution to take place int he month of November with a focus of separate activities hosted by the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley was a big proponent of Arab American Heritage Month commemorations and attended many. Past governors including Jim Edgar, George Ryan, Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn also recognized Arab American Heritage month by co-sponsoring and hosting activities ands events.

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Author Ray Hanania with visitors in front of the display at the Arabesque Festival in June 2010 when Richard M. Daley was mayor . Photos by Ray Hanania

Author Ray Hanania with visitors in front of the display at the Arabesque Festival in June 2010 when Richard M. Daley was mayor . Photos by Ray Hanania

But that changed first when Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor of the City of Chicago in 2011. Emanuel  had a hostility towards Arab Americans but pandered to non-Arab Muslims to divide the community. His fact act after being elected in April 2011 was to suspend the annual Arab American festival, called Arabesque, that was launched by Mayor Daley and held at the Daley Plaza.

Emanuel also suspended and eliminated the Advisory Commission on Arab American Affairs, surrendering to the racism of several prominent Jewish American organizations angered that the festivals included mentions of “Palestine,” Palestinian heritage and activists recognizing Jerusalem as an occupied Arab city.

Despite many attempts by moderate Arab American leaders to meets with the mayor and show respect, Emanuel refused to meet to discuss the issues with leaders of the Arab American community and never explained his hostility. Many suspected it had to do with the fact that his father, Benjamin M. Emanuel, was a member of the Jewish Terrorist organization, the Irgun which was denounced as a terrorist organization by the British Government and that engaged in many terrorist acts including blowing up the King David Hotel killing scores of civilians, massacring civilians at the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, and lynching kidnapped British soldiers and civilians.

Arab American and Palestinian American Veterans

Emanuel decided not to seek re-election after serving two racist-filled terms in office, beleaguered by controversies and scandal, and criticism that he spent too much time on petty issues but failed to address more important issues such as fighting to reduce the city’s rising crime and murder rate. One of the first things Arab Americans will do at the 2019 Arab American Heritage celebrations will be to celebrate his departure and work to restore ties Emanuel broke with his successor. There are 21 candidate running for Mayor of Chicago in the February 26, 2019 Consolidated elections including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, Gery Chico, former Chicago Police Chief Garry McCarthy, Paul Vallas, Willie Wilson, Bob Fioretti, Lori Lightfoot, Bill Daley, Jerry Joyce, Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown, LaShawn Ford, Neal Sales-Griffin, activist Ja’Mal Green, Austin Chamber of Commerce Director Amara Enyia and attorney John Kozlar.

Similarly, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner demonstrated open hostility towards Arab Americans advocating and supporting anti-Arab legislation including a bill introduced to punish any resident or business in Illinois who supports a boycott of the foreign country of Israel. Contractors with the State must sign an affidavit that they do not support a Boycott of Israel in order to qualify for state contracts or business. Recently, Rauner ordered the state to review state funding of Airbnb which refused to list properties located in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Illinois joins 8 other U.S. States that recognize April as Arab American Heritage Month, and also Washington D.C.

Click here for a story on Arab Americans serving in the U.S. Military.

Here is the bill:

AN ACT concerning government.

WHEREAS, It is appropriate and right to celebrate a diversity of cultures and heritages, and such celebration serves as a reminder that despite our differing backgrounds, everyone in Illinois is bound by a common hope for a better and more inclusive future for our children; and

WHEREAS, The Arab American community has a long and integral history in the United States; and

WHEREAS, For over a century, Arab Americans have been making valuable contributions to virtually every aspect of American society, including medicine, law, business, technology, government, and culture; and

WHEREAS, Tens of thousands of Arab Americans have served during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, and the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after September 11, 2001; and

WHEREAS, The history of Arab Americans in American life often remains neglected and has been riddled with misunderstanding and bigotry; and

WHEREAS, Men and women of Arab descent have shared their rich culture, strong work ethic, and dedication to education, while embracing the American spirit of opportunity and helping us build a better nation and State for all; and

WHEREAS, It is estimated that there are approximately 450,000 people of Arab American descent in Illinois with more than 100,000 Arab American voters registered; and

WHEREAS, We recognize and celebrate the contributions to cultural diversity, economic growth, and the overall development of our State and nation made by the Arab American community; therefore

Be it enacted by the People of the State of Illinois, represented in the General Assembly:

Section 5. The State Commemorative Dates Act is amended by adding Section 6 as follows:

(5 ILCS 490/6 new)
Sec. 6. Arab American Heritage Month. The month of April of each year is designated as Arab American Heritage Month to be observed throughout the State as a month to recognize the valuable contributions of Arab Americans to this State and to the various aspects of American society.

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award-winning columnist, author & former Chicago City Hall reporter (1977-1992). A veteran who served during the Vietnam War and the recipient of four SPJ Peter Lisagor Awards for column writing, Hanania writes weekly opinion columns on mainstream American & Chicagoland topics for the Southwest News-Herald, Des Plaines Valley News, the Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers, and Suburban Chicagoland.  

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. 

"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."

Click Here to LISTEN to Hanania's live radio show on 2nd Friday every month 7 AM CST. Click here to listen to Ray's Podcasts. 

His columns are archived here. 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.

Email Ray Hanania at rghanania@gmail.com.

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