Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

President Mahmoud Abbas Addresses Kahlil Gibran Award Dinner

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

President Mahmoud Abbas Addresses Kahlil Gibran Award Dinner

Article excerpt

MASTER OF ceremonies Jean AbiNader welcomed 800 guests to the Arab American Institute Foundation's (AAIF) 10th annual Kahlil Gibran "Spirit of Humanity" Awards gala at Washington, DC's J.W. Marriott Hotel on April 23. No matter if they're fifth-generation Arab Americans or newly arrived Iraqi refugees, they all represent a vital slice of America, AbiNader said.

Noting that tens of thousands of Arab Americans are "building a legacy in America," Helen Hatab Samhan, AAI's executive director, praised the leadership abilities of Arab-American youth: "They're confident. They're fearless," she said. She described the "Yalla Vote" Campaign, involving more than 60 organizations working to get out the Arab-American vote in 2008, as well as AAI's online resource "Election Central," which tracks presidential candidates' positions on issues like U.S. foreign policy and civil liberties.

AAI Chairman George Salem introduced Sen. John Sununu (R-NH), the only Arab American now serving in the U.S. Senate, and who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sununu encouraged Arab Americans to stay involved, run for office and make sure their leaders hear their voices. He pointed out that more than 3,500 Arab Americans now serve in the U.S. military. Sununu discussed some of the issues he is focused on, including free elections in Lebanon, a safe return for Iraqi-and Palestinian-refugees, and a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He called for a maximum effort to achieve these goals.

Rep. Ray LaHood (R-IL), who is retiring from Congress after serving seven terms, accepted the Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service, noting that "public service is a noble calling." The grandson of Lebanese immigrants, LaHood visited Lebanon 13 times during his tenure in office, helped persuade President Bill Clinton to lift the travel ban to Lebanon, and championed increased funding for American schools and hospitals in Lebanon. He said his grandparents arrived in Peoria in 1895 not speaking a word of English and did what most immigrants do: "They learned English, worked hard, and played by the rules." In America, LaHood concluded, no matter what your heritage and background, you can serve in the highest public office and make a difference.

Dr. James Zogby, founder and president of AAI, introduced Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in town to meet with President George W. Bush. Abbas called King Abdullah's peace plan the most important Arab initiative since 1948, and described Israeli settlement activities as the largest obstacle to the peace process. …

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