CHICAGO: President-elect Joe Biden’s decision to appoint a Palestinian American to a key White House position sparked a storm of political controversy.
He announced on Monday that Reema Dodin will serve as one of two deputy directors of his legislative affairs team, which helps define presidential policies. The other is Shuwanza Goff, who is an African American.
The appointment of Dodin, a veteran Washington insider, adds substance to campaign promises made by Biden in his six-page “Plan for Partnership” with the Arab American community, published in August, in which he promised to repeal the Trump administration’s Muslim ban and recognize Arab American rights.
“The American people are eager for our administration to get to work, and today’s appointees will help advance our agenda and ensure every American has a fair shot,” Biden said. “In a Biden administration we will have an open door to the Hill and this team will make sure their views are always represented in the White House.”
Ron Klain, Biden’s White House chief of staff, said: “President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris share a bold agenda that will build our nation back better than before. Our team will work with the president-elect and vice president-elect to implement that agenda and deliver results for American families.”
Pro-Israel groups and organizations criticized the appointment of Dodin, accusing her of attempting to justify “suicide bombings.” The allegation, which was supported by a twisting of the facts about past comments she made, is a common criticism leveled against Palestinians appointed to public office in US, based on presumed support for Palestinian rights.
The Jerusalem Post, a conservative, English-language Israeli newspaper, highlighted a comment Dodin allegedly made in 2002 in which she told an audience in Lodi, California, that “suicide bombers were the last resort of a desperate people.”
She also participated in a rally supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) movement, which opposes Israel’s policy of stealing land from Palestinians, setting up illegal settlements and harvesting the land for profit.
More than 26 US states, including Illinois, have passed legislation that makes support of BDS illegal and punishable in a number of ways.
Reacting to the appointment of Dodin, an article published on the website of anti-Arab extremist Sarah Geller said: “As predicted, the radical anti-Israel Left will have a prominent role in the potential Joe Biden administration. Palestinian American Reema Dodin, who has expressed support for suicide bombings against Israelis, will help negotiate legislation for Joe Biden.”
The pro-Israel Jewish Press also slammed Dodin in their coverage, citing claims that she is “acting as an agent of influence for the [Muslim] Brotherhood’s operations inside America.”
Dodin, who worked for many years as deputy chief of staff for Senator Dick Durbin, a moderate and popular Democrat from Illinois, immediately made her Twitter account private, apparently in an attempt to prevent critics from sifting through her past comments and using them to portray her as an extremist.
Durbin issued a statement in which he welcomed the appointment of Dodin to the Biden administration, and praised her service to his office. In a message posted on Twitter, he wrote: “Excited that my floor director, Reema Dodin, will be joining President-elect Biden’s (Legislative) Affairs team. She is smart, trusted, and has the respect of members on both sides of the aisle. Reema is just what our new president needs to help him in the Senate.”
Prominent Arab Americans and politicians rallied to Dodin’s defense.
Ziad Asali, founder of the American Task Force on Palestine, said that Dodin had “worked her way from law school to community activity to Senator Durbin’s office, all the way to the White House. Message to young Palestinian/Arab Americans: Yes you can. Belong and earn your way with competence and commitment. Meritocracy means success without waste.”
Warren David, the president of media organization Arab America said: “We are so excited about Reema’s appointment. It means so much to Arab Americans, who have been marginalized throughout the years, to see a senior official of Arab/Palestinian heritage in the White House. Hopefully, appointments such as this are not the ‘exception’ but the ‘rule’ regarding Arab Americans in public service.”
Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal also welcomed the appointment, saying: “Over my 10 years in the Senate, Reema has been an invaluable source of insight and counsel. She is invariably conscientious and caring, and the Biden admin is lucky to have her. I’ll miss her on the Senate Floor but look forward to working with her in her new role.”
Dodin was born to Palestinian immigrants whose origins can be traced to Dura in Palestine, near the Israeli-occupied city of Hebron.
She has been active in Arab American circles for many years. In May 2018 she participated in the Arab American Institute’s annual Khalil Gibran Awards ceremony, during which she presented an award to Marcelle M. Wahba, the president of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington D.C. and a former US Ambassador to the UAE.
Dodin has a strong resume, having served as Durbin’s research director and an aide to his Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law. She was also a volunteer voter-protection counsel on a number of political campaigns, including Obama for America.
She is a Truman National Security fellow, a New Leaders Council fellow, an Aspen Socrates alum, a former term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of the Jenkins Hill Society, a consortium of women in politics supporting female politicians.
Originally from California, Dodin is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Neither Dodin nor Durbin’s office responded to requests by Arab News for comment.