Tibi was born in Tayibe in central Israel, a decade after Israel was created by a UN resolution that subordinated the rights of Christian and Muslim residents of Palestine.
A successful physician who graduated from Hebrew University, Tibi fought against Israel’s stubborn racism against non-Jews. He was expelled from a medical internship at Hadassah Hospital when he protested against Israel’s double standard of selecting only Arabs for security checks.
Despite his protests, Tibi understands the best way to change Israel’s racist and discriminatory practices is to do it from the inside by becoming part of the system, rather than from a soapbox outside the country that no one hears.
Working within the system, Tibi won a seat in the Knesset in 1999, when Israel’s rightwing leaders were intentionally sabotaging the Oslo Accords process that would have created a Palestinian state and brought peace to the region.
Tibi understands that it is not enough to protest against Israeli violence and aggression against Christians and Muslims inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories, or to speak out against Israeli racism. He recognizes that Palestinians need to fight an even bigger battle to correct the negative stereotypes that Israel has fabricated about Palestinians and the lies it has fabricated about itself.
I met Tibi when he came to Chicago last May and was moved by his courageous rhetoric. He is not an extremist. He is a realist who speaks about Israel’s many human-rights transgressions in the context of bringing change and achieving peace.
Tibi will be the keynote speaker at the Sunday Palestine Luncheon on Sept. 24 at the annual convention of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) — a group under continual assault from fanatics inside and outside of the community.
The ADC audience needs to heed and embrace Tibi’s strategic rhetoric about how to effectively confront Israel. It should take steps to distance itself from extremists who reject peace and spend as much time bashing other Arabs as they do Israel.
Tibi is not out to “destroy” Israel, as many fanatics assert. He is out to change it, either by making it truly democratic, or through the creation of an independent Palestinian state that most Israelis and many Palestinian activists oppose.
He reminds me of another inspirational Palestinian Israeli leader I met more 41 years ago, Tawfiq Ziad.
Ziad visited Chicago in October 1976 to address the Arab American Congress for Palestine, a precursor to the ADC and for which I was a media strategist and later spokesman and president.
Ziad fought for Palestinian rights in his poetry and his powerful writing. He was uncompromising in speaking against the fundamental racism at the heart of Israel’s existence. He was elected mayor of Nazareth in 1973 and the following year was elected to the Knesset.
Like Tawfiq Ziad a generation ago, Ahmad Tibi is sidelined and ignored by US media and politicians. They would do better to listen.
Despite this, his critics accused him of being a communist in the early days of Israel’s existence, when Arabs were restricted to joining marginal political organizations. Israel banned Palestinians from forming political organizations that championed Palestinian rights and only let them participate in communist and socialist political groups.
Many Israeli Jewish leaders may be racist bigots, but they are not stupid. They did everything they could to manipulate how Palestinians were presented to the West, especially to the American people who provide billions in taxpayer dollars to subsidize Israel’s civil rights violations against Christian and Muslim Palestinians.
When I first interviewed Ziad for my Chicago newspaper The Middle Eastern Voice, he said something about Israel that has left an impression to this day. “Discrimination in Israel,” he said, “is policy, practice and reality.”
Most American news media refused to cover Ziad, as they refused to cover Tibi when he came to Chicago last May. That is how they discriminate against Palestinian rights, by marginalizing and excluding Palestinian voices of moderation and reason. They would be there to report on “Arab terrorism,” but never to cover the reality of America’s Arabs or Palestine’s suffering.
Ziad denounced Israel’s racist policies, which he described as “a new form of apartheid.” But he also spoke out against extremists in the Palestinian community who opposed “normalization” with Israel.
Ziad said he served in the Knesset for the same reason Tibi does: To protect the rights of Palestinians in Israel and to help either make Israel a true democracy or to implement a two-state solution whereby Palestine becomes an independent state.
At the time, the University of Illinois, where I studied, refused to provide funds to allow Ziad to address the student body — in contrast, the university provided generous funding to Jewish students to bring Israeli speakers.
Both Ziad and Tibi worked with Yasser Arafat. They were among the delegation that greeted Arafat when he arrived in the Occupied Territories in 1994 under the terms of the 1993 Camp David accords. Ziad died in a car accident while driving home from the reception for Arafat.
Tibi’s voice resonates with the courage of Ziad and the commitment of Arafat to the rights of the Palestinian people.
When he speaks, Americans need to listen.
• Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American columnist, author and former professional journalist. Email him at [email protected]