Emanuel won’t meet with Arabs but his policies impact them

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Emanuel won’t meet with Arabs but his policies impact them
By Ray Hanania — Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has done his best to avoid any contact with leaders of Chicago’s American Arab community, courting non-Arab Muslims and other ethnic groups. So its hard not to think the worst when his policies negatively impact the community of more than 250,000 Chicago Arabs.

During his election, he avoided appearances at all American Arab organization events, including two in which American Arabs specifically sought his involvement. Discussions with his aides went nowhere, even though the city’s largest American Arab newspaper, al Mustaqbal (The Future News) had endorsed Emanuel’s election over the more popular Carol Moseley Braun or the candidate endorsed by the smaller “Arab Democratic Club” which embraced the losing campaign of Gery Chico.

We’re expected to believe that it’s all a coincidence when things start to happen. Like when after his election as mayor the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs announced in a low-key email that this year’s festival was being cancelled because they couldn’t find enough volunteers to help make the only major Arab event in Chicago happen.

This week, Emanuel announced a special summit that he characterized as an effort to try to bring major food chains into areas he described as “food deserts.” He brought together the heads of a number of major food chains that long ago abandoned the inner city communities because of the poverty there and rising crime. That void was filled by ethnic grocers who have never received any assistance from the city in the past and whose budgets and inventory spending tend to follow the wants of the lower-income communities.

American Arabs are a major part of that chain of inner-city small grocery stores. Many American Arabs are comfortable working in the African American community because the discrimination experienced among African Americans is far less than the discrimination faced in White communities where American Arabs are considered “Black.” The African American community also has large pockets of Muslims who also identify with the American Arab grocers, many of whom are Muslim themselves.

All of the major chains fled the expansion of the African American communities, yet its the small grocers who have taken much of the abuse. Some of the communities have high crime rates and have powerful street gang activity that often target the stores. Still, despite resisting the pressures of crime and a difficult economic environment, the American Arab store owners stayed, while Jewel and Dominicks, which could provide thousands of jobs to African Americans, fled.

What about Wal-Mart which was also in the meeting. Wal-Mart has tried repeatedly to build stores in Chicago but the Chicago City Council, not American Arabs, have kept them out.

So Mayor Emanuel decides that the answer is to give the big chains incentives, rewarding them for their flight, while ignoring the smaller grocery stores that remain in this tough to work in communities with no support no incentives and a constant barrage of criticism because they are not Black.

Many American Arab stores would be irreparably harmed if the larger chains move back in to the so-called “food deserts.” And even though that is a selfish concern of the store owners who have invested years of work, millions of dollars in cumulative community investment and lost many friends, relatives and workers to street gang violence, the small store owners have a right to ask why the mayor isn’t concerned about helping them.

There isn’t enough fruit sold int he stores? Then help them buy and sell the fruit. There isn’t enough “fresh meat” in stores. Really mayor? Have you been to a Jewel or a Dominicks lately? I was just in a Dominicks and the fresh fish I purchased had a shelf-life of one more day. The meat I purchased was peppered with MSG to make it look fresh when the quality of the meat product has been sliding down because the economy is making it tough on everyone.

Mayor Emanuel wants everyone to think that he’s concerned about the health and well-being of the people who live in those tough neighborhoods where the neighbors will tell you life is rough, crime is high, income is low and finding even a small grocery store that can stock enough food is rare

But that ignores the 800 pound gorilla sitting in nearly every meeting and schedule that Mayor Rahm Emanuel keeps. And that is that his decisions will again negatively impact American Arabs, undermining a segment of their community that has worked hard to provide the best quality retail grocery stores available to tough communities.

Sure, there have been some problems with some grocers, but those are exceptions. Most of the American Arab grocers are involved in the communities where their stores are located and donate heavily to the local organizations. They also provide jobs, although in a traditional American Arab business, families work as a unit. It’s in Arab culture, even though some do not like it.

We’re expected to believe, again, that it’s just a coincidence that another one of his policies will hurt the American Arab community, which he has yet to reach out to in order to make his promise of bringing all of the people of Chicago together.

Mayor, you have a responsibility to meet with American Arabs and address their concerns. You have a responsibility to meet with them even if you fear they might ask embarrassing questions about your father’s history as an active member of the Irgun, an organization that was denounced as a terrorist group for its killing of innocent civilians. They might even ask you about your service in support of the Israeli military, even though you never did serve in the United States military, where many American Arabs have served with honor, dignity and patriotism despite the widespread discrimination that continues to sweep across an American turning the corner on the 19th Anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

They might ask you tough questions, Mayor Emanuel. But you are supposed to be a tough mayor. Are you really that scared?

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and media consultant. He can be reached at www.hanania.com.)

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

RAY HANANIA — Columnist

Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist and author. He covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).

Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at TheArabDailyNews.com, TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com.

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.

His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania

Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com

Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com ArabNews.com/taxonomy/term/10906
Ray Hanania