Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Spirit of Humanity Awards Gala Honors Ambassador Kattouf

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Spirit of Humanity Awards Gala Honors Ambassador Kattouf

Article excerpt

The Arab American Institute (AAI), which works to promote Arab-American participation in political life, held its annual Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards Gala at the Renaissance Washington, DC Hotel on April 18, 2012. More than 500 attendees joined AAI to honor individuals and organizations whose work exemplifies the spirit of the great Lebanese-American poet.

This year there was no representative from the Obama administration to deliver the keynote address. According to an article by Alex Kane, published on May 3, AAI declined to host Attorney General Eric Holder as a silent protest after the Obama administration had said Holder would not address the controversy over the New York Police Department's spying on Muslims in schools and mosques or the Federal Bureau of Investigation's anti-Muslim trainings. The Obama administration has paid little attention to Arab or Muslim Americans, Kane wrote, in sharp contrast to its outreach to the Jewish community.

Happily, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood was on hand to present an award. He thanked his fellow Arab-Americans for their thoughts and prayers for his son Sam, director of the International Republican Institute in Egypt, and his daughter-in-law Katie, who were caught up and briefly detained in the dispute over the role of U.S.-funded nongovernmental organizations in recent Egyptian elections. LaHood also thanked James Zogby, founder of AAI, for speaking up on behalf of "people around the world who have no voice." LaHood, the only Arab American in President Barack Obama's cabinet, said he is proud to use every opportunity to communicate his community's values and views to the president.

LaHood presented Ambassador Theodore H. Kattouf with the Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service. Kattouf's distinguished 30-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service included service as U.S. ambassador to the UAE and Syria. For the past nine years Kattouf has worked tirelessly as president and CEO of America-Mideast Educational and Training Services, Inc., AMIDEAST, founded in 1951.

Today AMIDEAST programs and services touch the lives of half a million individuals a year in the Middle East and North Africa. AMIDEAST manages U.S. scholarships and exchanges, such as the Fulbright program, and teaches English to underserved middle and high school students in nine countries so they can take advantage of these life-changing exchange programs.

Ambassador Kattouf praised the American government programs, businesses and individuals who have stood by AMIDEAST for 60-plus years, because-like other non-profits working in the region-his badly needs funding.

In his eloquent, and perhaps unexpected, keynote address, Kattouf described the painful challenges facing Arab American citizens, especially voters, as they seek to improve their nation. He recalled Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale's shameful return of campaign contributions from a group of prominent Arab-American businessmen. The audience was leftwondering whether candidates are still wary about endorsements or donations from Arab Americans, in stark contrast to their eagerness to court Jewish -American donors.

Is it just a coincidence, Kattouf asked, that Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich called Palestinians an "invented people" immediately after receiving a $10 million contribution from American casino mogul and proud Zionist Sheldon Adelson? Kattouf bitterly thanked the Supreme Court for its landmark 2010 Citizens United decision, which overturned long-standing campaign finance laws and made Adelson's donation legal. …

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