CHICAGO, ILLINOIS: Abdelnasser Rashid, the first Palestinian American to win a seat in the Illinois General Assembly, was sworn into office Saturday before a gathering of prominent state and local officials, and Arab American community leaders.
After taking the oath, Rashid demanded justice for “innocent victims of violence everywhere.” This includes Palestinian civilians being targeted by the Israeli military, and also African Americans like Tyre Nichols who died three days after being beaten by police during a routine traffic stop in Memphis on Jan. 7.
Rashid said the rights of Palestinians and African Americans were just as important as the issues that every US citizen faces including improved education for their children, more jobs, a stronger economy, and support for their families.
“I am honored to be the first Palestinian to be elected to the Illinois General Assembly along with my sister, Nabeela Syed. Let’s (give) her a round of applause,” said Rashid who represents the 21st State House District. Syed, a Muslim, was also elected with Rashid in the Nov. 4 General Election and represents the north suburban 51st State Legislative district.
“We recognize the high stakes of the moment that we are in. I had planned to give a celebratory speech that was focused almost exclusively on the progress we are making. But to be honest I couldn’t only speak about progress after seeing the video of Tyre Nichols being brutally murdered by five officers in Memphis Tennessee. A video that reminds us of just how much we still have to do. And videos from Gaza and the West Bank where Palestinians continue to suffer under brutal Israeli occupation.”
Rashid said these issues of African American and Palestinian rights were just as important as the nation’s broken healthcare system and the region’s housing crisis, and he demanded that “we build durable coalitions to fight for justice and equity” for everyone.
A Democrat, Rashid’s district includes parts of the state’s growing Palestinian American population based in the southwest suburbs of Chicago including in Bridgeview and Burbank.
Several prominent elected officials attended the swearing-in citing Rashid’s election as proof that the system can change and become more representative.
Among those speakers was US Senator Dick Durbin, who during his term in office hired several Palestinian and Arab American staff members, including Reema Dodin who served as his deputy chief of staff in Washington D.C.
Dodin was tapped by President Joe Biden to serve as deputy director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, the highest-ranking position to be held by a Palestinian American. Dodin’s parents immigrated to America from Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Newly elected Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, whose former election campaign manager Palestinian American political consultant Hanah Jubeh is now the deputy secretary of state, praised Rashid as a symbol of the openness and inclusion that Illinois embraces.
“This community should be very, very proud of what Abdelnasser Rashid has accomplished ... the first Palestinian American and one of only two Muslims in the history of the General Assembly in the State of Illinois,” said Giannoulias, whose office is considered to be more powerful than that of the state governor.
“You represent the next generation, Abdelnasser. The people who came to this country with nothing. Who worked hard. Who were
discriminated against. Who made sacrifices and had challenges we couldn’t even fathom, are looking at you now as the reason why they came to this country and the reason why they made those sacrifices. They can point to you and say he is one of us. If he can do it, we can do it.”
Rashid defeated 14-year incumbent Democrat Michael Zalewski. Observers said Rashid’s success represents the growing influence of the Palestinian and Muslim American vote in the southwest suburbs of Chicagoland.