I am a Palestinian-American with big ideas; dreams so big, they consist of becoming the next Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright or Condoleezza Rice. But I sometimes see a red sign in front of me that reads: STOP.
Nonetheless, I am pressing forward, as hard as New York Jets offensive lineman Oday Aboushi. Mr. Aboushi, one of the few Palestinian-Americans in the NFL, was recently put on the defensive off of the football field. The 22-year-old has been the target of a smear campaign originating on the notorious website Front Page. It characterized him as an anti-Semite and Hamas sympathizer for simply expressing pride in his Palestinian heritage.
This is the "STOP" sign I see.
Incidents like the campaign against Mr. Aboushi have a chilling effect on Palestinian-Americans. "It's completely natural and admirable for a person of Palestinian heritage to be proud to be a Palestinian and support his people's rights and culture, just as it is for a Jewish person to support Israel and Jewish causes. What's wrong with that?" Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic told this author.
Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine, tweeted: "This calumny against Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim-Americans is not acceptable. Speak up Yahoo Sports and NY Jets." Leading Jewish-American organizations stepped up to the plate. Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman stated, "Being pro-Palestinian does not mean you're an anti-Semite or an extremist. The record simply does not show that Aboushi has crossed that line." The American Jewish Committee said they were "deeply disturbed" by the incident. Dr. Asali called the statements by ADL and AJC important examples of "solidarity and coexistence."
The bigger issue is the insidious suggestion that expressing pride in Palestinian heritage automatically makes one an anti-Semite. Millions of Americans gather each year for the specific reason of sharing and commemorating their heritage. Why should it be different for Palestinians? Is the Palestinian-American identity only defined by the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
The Arab-American community has contributed greatly to our society and has much more to offer. The community on the whole is disproportionately well-educated. Eighteen percent hold a post-graduate degree, a figure twice the national average.
Arab-Americans are at least as much as other Americans aware of the danger of extremism. Extremists threaten the standing and accomplishments of Arab-Americans, while posing as much of threat to them as everyone else.
Responding to the Trayvon Martin verdict, President Obama observed that we are not yet in a "post-racial" society. Mr. Obama noted that a people's historical experiences inevitably shape their general perception of racial and ethnic dynamics. The Arab-American community is by no means an exception to this phenomenon.
In order to appropriately counter such attacks in the future, Laila Al-Qatami, a noted Arab-American activist, stresses the importance of "forging even deeper bonds with other ethnic and civil rights groups who can be some of our best advocates in stemming the tide of false and hateful allegations against the Arab and Muslim American communities" such alliances and solidarity can protect Arab-Americans from these prejudices.
In an interview, Mr. Aboushi explained how important it is for him to be able to represent Palestinian-Americans in the NFL in order to "give people hope and make people realize that dreams are possible" and how he is proud to be their role model. Following Aboushi's example, I am not going to shy away from the mainstream. I'm not going to be stopped by a glass-ceiling that's already cracking.