As individuals dedicated to empowering the Arab-American community, we are alarmed by the decline of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). Arab America needs a proactive and inclusive civil society organisation. ADC must reform to meet its mandate as the flagship Arab-American civil rights organisation.
As former members, chapter presidents, donors, interns or supporters of the organisation, we are concerned that ADC finds itself at its lowest point after three decades of existence. All of the current female staff members at the national office have been on strike for a week. This follows publicly made sexual harassment claims by several past female employees.
Scandal after scandal
Over the past two years, ADC has been at the centre of scandals that have pushed it into the margins, making it even less representative of the community it was founded to serve. In 2011, ADC convention planners disinvited Malek Jandali, a Syrian American pianist whose music was a call for freedom in Syria. ADC mismanaged the affair. After the cancelled performance, many called into question its ability to lead, represent and mediate differences within the community.
Over 770 people signed a petition calling on ADC to reform, starting with new leadership on its board of directors. After these reforms, the signers pledged to “commit ourselves to reviving the ADC as an organisation that protects and supports the human rights of Arabs in the US and across the Arab world”. The reforms never came. It was a missed opportunity to move in a new direction.
This year, highly respected Arab American leaders Rana Abbas and Michigan state representative Rashida Tlaib came forward publicly to disclose that they suffered sexual harassment when they worked with ADC’s Michigan director, Imad Hamad. ADC merely suspended him, hired an attorney to conduct an investigation, absolved Hamad of any wrongdoing and retained him as an advisor. The board did not disclose much about the report or the basis for their conclusion. The lack of transparency and accountability calls into question the legitimacy of the conclusion. Several members of ADC-Michigan’s board resigned in protest.
Instead of sparking activity and boosting pride among Arab Americans, ADC is a dysfunctional, shrinking operation.
Rather than taking the proper course of action, ADC’s chairman terminated its communications and advocacy director, Raed Jarrar. This was a mysterious move. Jarrar had invigorated ADC’s new justice for Alex Odeh campaign and was not involved in any of the controversies that have plagued ADC. The reason Jarrar was let go was that he, along with his co-workers, inquired internally about the sexual harassment investigation, raising concerns about it and the board’s decisions.
Female staff strike
In response to Jarrar’s firing, all of ADC’s female staff at the national office took to collective action. They went on strike starting on Monday, October 21. ADC’s chairman dismissed their concerns as if charges of sexual harassment in the organisation are none of their business. Telling them their opinions do not matter is hardly the response one expects of a grassroots, civil rights organisation’s head.
By refusing to work, they lose their salary and risk their jobs and livelihood. They have so far stood on nothing but the strength of their convictions.
By working together to take a courageous stand, these young, female Arab Americans represent the best potential of an organisation wrecked by a leadership which has abandoned ADC’s civil rights spirit. Their commitment to principle highlights the very reasons we, as former ADC members, were initially drawn to the organisation as activists, college students, and young professionals.
At the time of this article’s drafting, the strike was still on-going.
ADC failing by any measure
The organisation’s recent missteps only alienate prospective members and remind former members and supporters why they left. However, the controversies and the strike are tied to a deeper problem: ADC is failing, and failing by any and all measures.
ADC appears to have more former members than current ones. Almost all of the chapters it lists on its website are defunct. Recent elections for ADC’s Washington, DC chapter attracted just two attendees.
ADC raised fewer donations annually since 2008, according to its tax forms. The portion it raises from its shrinking membership is minimal, showing its weakness as a grassroots organisation. ADC has fewer employees today than it had at the end of its first decade. Its media presence also declined since 2006, as a Lexis-Nexis search proves. It hasn’t released a publication since 2011, when it put out a compilation of scholarly writings on 9/11.
ADC’s national conventions – which once galvanised thousands of Arab Americans from across the country – drew fewer over the years. The youth in our community stay away in droves, finding little inspiration in an organisation that lost its way years ago.
Two buildings, its since-vacated Georgetown headquarters and its half-built centre in Dearborn are shrines to this organisation’s insolvency and mishandling of funds.
Time for accountability
Instead of sparking activity and boosting pride among Arab Americans, ADC is a dysfunctional, shrinking operation. The fault must lie firstly with those on the board of directors who have been managing its demise over the past decade or so through different ADC presidents.
If the ADC has any hope to recover from this downward spiral, it lies in what these four young Arab Americans are doing. Sadly, the normal mechanisms of accountability are broken because its membership has declined so dramatically. The strikers are challenging an organisation too many others have given up on. They demonstrate what it can become if voices like theirs are empowered.
We urge the board of directors to heed the strikers’ call. Then, they must bring into the board’s leadership a chairperson who is visionary, inspirational and welcoming of wide participation. This is needed to highlight – in very clear terms – that the board of directors will advance the interests of an Arab American community that needs an effective and dynamic advocacy organisation. The stewards of the organisation, its board of directors, must recognise this. The ADC cannot recover without it.
Khaled A Beydoun, Nadine Naber, William Youmans, Ammar Askari, Fadi Kiblawi, Manal A. Jamal, Hoda Mitwally and Atef Said all contributed to this article.