By Ray Hanania — Had it not been for a presidential election and the bitter battle between two powerful Illinois Democrats, Antoin “Tony” Rezko might not be sitting in jail, today. Two newspaper columnists in recent days have described Rezko as “sleazy” and another compared him to murderous Outfit mobsters. And that’s just from two writers who are from the same Chicago newspaper. The reason: Rezko is caught as the lynchpin between two politicians, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whom the media and most regional politicians dislike, and the presumptive Democratic nominee for President, Barack Obama, whom they all love.
The media is parsing through the stories to help Obama distance himself from Rezko while stretching hard to link Rezko so closely to Blagojevich as to convict the governor without as much as a trial. They’re already saying Blagojevich will be convicted before he leaves office and the media and the state Democrats who hate him are already pushing to have him impeached.
No one got to see the real Rezko, a family man and an American proud of his heritage so much that he single-handedly did more to help the Arab American community in Chicago than all of its pathetic and selfish leaders combined.
Chicago’s Arab American community is under siege. Plagued by community disorganization and betrayed by false leaders who exploit their suffering for their own selfish goals worse than Rezko ever did for politicians, the community has been used to provide the base from which a handful of Arab Americans have jettisoned themselves to enormous wealth and power, and that includes Ali Ata, the man who lied to the court in exchange for a softer sentence in his own federal indictment and certain conviction.
How did Rezko end up in the middle of this mess?
The Syrian-born American building renovator and restaurant chain owner was convicted of using his political clout with politicians like Obama and Blagojebich to win contracts and jobs for those around him. That is how the Illinois and Chicago political system works. You donate to a politicians, the politician gives you jobs.
But Rezko may have gotten sloppy doing what every Chicago and Illinois politician has done for years.
In true character, Rezko sent a letter to the Judge Amy St. Eve complaining he was being pressured to falsely testify against Blagojevich, to say things that are not true in exchange for an Ali Ata type sentence reduction. Instead, he said he would not and the media has been hammering him because Blagojevich is in their primary sights.
Judge St. Eve, by the way, is notorious for her anti-Arab rulings and sentences, presiding over several anti-Arab federal kangaroo court convictions including that of Mohammed Salah who beat back trumped up charges of “terrorism” only to be convicted of a manipulated charge of “perjury.” Salah denied he was a member of a “terrorist group.”
Rezko came on the Chicago scene in the early 1990s. He held some contracts with the City of Chicago secured under the administration of Chicago’s first Black mayor, Harold Washington. Like many Arab Americans, Rezko had close ties to the Nation of Islam, which sympathized with the Palestinian and Arab causes. He became close to the inspiring icons like Muhammad Ali and even young Obama, a little-known state legislator who later rose to stardom.
If the word sleazy can be used, it should be used to describe the Arab Americans who are not in jail and are still loose to exploit and abuse and betray the needs of the Chicago Arab American community.
These leaders used the community and its empty organizations as a foundation to impress unknowing Illinois and Chicago politicians, waving promises of fundraising and, more importantly, their ethnic votes.
One of those was Ali Ata, who was the president of the Chicago Chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (Chicago-ADC). Ata used Chicago ADC to achieve his personal objectives and those of his pals, several of whom have been named in investigations and others who should be. (Tragically, National ADC, which has had an impeccable reputation for community service, was aware of the Chicago Chapter’s dysfunction but unable to change it.)
Here is how it was done. The Chicago Arab community has been in disarray for years. No real effective organization. Held hostage by a handful of extremist fanatics on one side, and selfishly motivated exploiters on the other side. These two groups actually worked together to organize events and invite political officials they hoped to impress. And they did impress Republicans like former Gov. Jim Edgar, former (and now corruption convicted and jailed) Gov. George Ryan, former U.S. Senator Peter Fiztgerald, and non-partisan officeholder, Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Ironically, the mainstream media never covered these events where these “leaders” hugged the other corruption and convicted officials, nor the ones later where Rezko hugged and thanked both Obama and Blagojevich. The only time the Arab community comes to media attention is at times of controversy, never achievement.
Just before Sept. 11, 2001, they set their sites on Rezko who represented a doorway into the national Democratic Party elite.
They organized new events and invited the community. They gave Rezko awards with titles like “Leader of the Universe,” and “Outstanding Businessman of the Century” and “Most Influential Man of the Millennium.” They put him on national Arab American dominated boards.
Rezko fell for it, hard. His real flaw was he was human like everyone else. He thought it was all legit, too.
But Rezko was such a contrast to these low-lifes in the community. He was one of the only successful businessmen who really cared about Arab community empowerment. It wasn;t just about himself. It was about the community, too.
Rezko helped raise money for every Arab American who ran for public office, a difficult fete because even before 9/11, American voters hated Arabs. He helped them find jobs. He helped donate money to real grassroots organizations that couldn’t get Daley’s support but that did more hard work for the community. He crossed national lines, helping Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians, Syrians and the powerful Lebanese American community.
The real story is how Rezko will go to jail as a martyr, while the real sleaze bags in the Arab American community remain at the top exploiting all the organizations for their selfish gain.
Tony Rezko is a true Arab American tragedy.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and author. He is the managing editor of the Arab American Writers Group at www.ArabWritersGroup.com and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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"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."
Hanania 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 www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
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, Hanania 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. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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