Arab-Americans running for office in record numbers amidst Trump divisiveness

Digital Originals

Democratic candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar arrives at a meet and greet campaign event held at a home of a supporter in his 50th congressional district in El Cajon, California, U.S. September 26, 2018. Picture taken September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Arab Americans are running for office in record numbers in this midterm election season.

According to the Arab American Institute, the 2018 midterm elections has the most number of Arab-American candidates running since they’ve been tracking elections beginning in 1985.

More than 100 Arab-Americans ran for any government office this year, and 53 of those candidates have made it through to elections in November, the Arab American Institute found.

Historically, midterms have proven to be a referendum on the politics and policies of the president and his party in office.

For Republican President Donald Trump, who has been criticized for his policies towards the Arab and Muslim communities both in the U.S. and abroad, the large number of Arab candidates is likely part of that referendum.

“The reaction says we’re stronger, we’re better, we’re going to actually show them that we can elect people and win,” said James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute.

There are currently only six members of the House of Representatives and no U.S. senators who are of Arab descent.

The United States likely has 3.5 million Arab-Americans, according to estimates by the Arab American Institute, which argues that the U.S. Census only identifies a portion of the Arab population in the U.S. However, a U.S. Census survey found that in 2010, there were 1.5 million Americans with Arab ancestry.

The candidates in this midterm are largely those who are the children of immigrants, who have built lives for themselves and their families in the United States, and are now hoping to make their mark in politics.

One member of this Arab-American election surge is Rashida Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, who is running unopposed for the House of Representatives in Michigan. Tlaib was the first Muslim woman to serve in the Michigan state legislature when she was first elected in 2008.

During her campaign she describes an experience when the chair of a committee in the state legislature asked to see her birth certificate.

“I was born in this country… and he said, well, can I see your birth certificate? And I thought to myself, wow. He can’t get rid of me, though. It really bothers him I’m here,” she said in a recent interview with feminist media company MAKERS.

“I’m not going to be forced out just because I’m Muslim and because I’m Arab. I’m going to be pushing that line and showing people that if you work hard enough, if you love your community enough, you can do whatever the heck you want. I don’t care what anybody says, or what these stereotypes out there about us.”

Another prominent candidate for office is Ilhan Omar–she’s a Somali immigrant running for the House of Representatives in Minnesota. She hopes to win the seat currently held by Keith Ellison, the first Muslim American to be elected to Congress in 2006. Ellison is not running again for the seat.

Somalia was one of the countries included in President Trump’s executive order that called for a ban on travel into the United States by nationals of seven Muslim-majority nations. Trump signed an executive order in his first week as president banning entry to the U.S. by nationals from Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Iraq and Yemen.

Omar faces Republican candidate Jennifer Zielinski.

If they win, Tlaib and Omar would be the first Muslim women in Congress.

“What it means for 2020, is we’re going to have a very different Congress than we have in 2018,” Zogby said. “People aren’t going to be able to talk about issues in the same way because you can’t talk about immigration in the face of Ilhan Omar without her saying ‘You don’t get it, you don’t understand, let me explain to you the experience of people that I’m running into around the country.’”