In August 2020, during his campaign for President, Joe Biden issued a comprehensive “Plan for Partnership” committing to including Arab-Americans in his administration, which was a historic first.
True to his unprecedented campaign pledge, President Biden has already nominated eight Arab-Americans to appointments in his administration. Four of the new positions are lawyers, two are doctors, one a communications professional, and one a political scientist.
Who are they and why is this important?
Meet the Arab-Americans Serving in the Biden Administration
Brenda Abdelall, the daughter of Egyptian immigrants, is a lawyer who has represented, advocated for, and lobbied on behalf of Arab-American and Muslim American communities before the US Department of Justice, Department of Education, and the White House. During the 2020 presidential campaign, she served as one of the main volunteers for President Biden’s “Arab Americans for Biden” group. She is now serving as Senior Advisor in the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. She received her BA and JD from the University of Michigan and later taught legal writing as a Professor at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law.
Hady Amr is Lebanese-American. He is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israel and Palestinian Affairs at the Department of State’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. He previously served at the State Department from 2013-2017 on Secretary of State John Kerry’s team, working on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Prior to that he was Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Middle East at the US Agency for International Development (USAID). He has also held positions at the US Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. Having also worked with international organizations such as the World Bank and the World Economic Forum, most recently he was a scholar with the Brookings Institution. He holds a Master’s degree from Princeton University and a Bachelor’s degree from Tufts University.
Maher Brian Samir Bitar is a Palestinian-American lawyer who graduated with a BSFS from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He went on to get a law degree from Georgetown University. Bitar also holds a Master’s from and was a PhD candidate at Oxford University in the UK. He previously served as General Counsel for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and played a critical role in the first impeachment proceeding of twice-impeached former President Donald Trump. Bitar has worked with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Frequently called a “dedicated public servant” by his peers and colleagues, he is serving in the Biden administration as Senior Director for Intelligence Programs at the National Security Council. He will be coordinating the massive streams of information that come in constantly from the US’ vast intelligence apparatus.
Dr. Bechara Choucair, a Lebanese-American physician and public health advisor, was the first Chief Community Health Officer of Chicago-based Kaiser Permanente and Senior Vice President of Safety Net and Community Health at Trinity Health. He also served as the Commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Public Health. Dr. Choucair has been appointed Vaccinations Coordinator for the White House. With significant experience in community health and improving health equity—a major goal of the Biden administration’s Covid-19 plan, Dr. Choucair is responsible for the safe, equitable, and timely delivery of the Covid-19 vaccine in coordination with federal agencies and state and local governments. He holds a BS in chemistry and a Doctorate of Medicine from the American University of Beirut and a Master of Science degree in healthcare management from the University of Texas in Dallas.
Reema Dodin, a long-time Senatorial staffer whose parents are Palestinian, is the most senior Palestinian-American woman to serve in the executive branch of the US government.
Reema Dodin, a long-time Senatorial staffer whose parents are Palestinian, is the most senior Palestinian-American woman to serve in the executive branch of the US government. A lawyer, Dodin served for 14 years as Senator Dick Durbin’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Floor Director, Floor Counsel, Research Director, and aide to his Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law. She is respected by members on both sides of the aisle, according to colleagues. She has a BA from the University of California at Berkeley and a JD from the University of Illinois College of Law. Dodin is serving as Deputy White House Director of Legislative Affairs and will play a major role for the Biden administration in negotiating legislation with Congress.
Ike Hajinazarian, the son of Lebanese and Armenian parents, served as Western Pennsylvania Regional Press Secretary for the Biden campaign from 2019 to 2020. Prior to joining the campaign, he worked on Capitol Hill, first as Press Assistant to Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and later as the Deputy Press Secretary on the House Homeland Security Committee’s Majority Staff. He received a BA in journalism from Indiana University and an MA from George Washington University. Hajinazarian has been tapped to serve as the White House Regional Communications Director.
Ahmad Ramadan is the first Arab-American to serve in the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Labor. He worked in the Office of Congresswoman Debbie Dingell for two years and volunteered with the Biden campaign. He has a BS in political science from Wayne State University.
Dana Shubat, whose parents are Jordanian immigrants, has been appointed Senior Legal Affairs Advisor at the White House. She served in Senator Michael Bennet’s office from 2016, working her way up from intern to legislative aide. She received a BA in psychology from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2018.
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Impact of Arab-Americans
With more than four years of the previous administration stoking Islamophobia and fear of immigrants of every type (except perhaps northern Europeans), as well as rising hate crimes, these appointments are significant in combatting the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments that were unleashed and normalized by former President Donald Trump.
According to the Arab-American Vote 2020 poll, Arab-Americans were a crucial component of the Democrat vote during the 2020 election that unseated Trump by nearly 7 million votes. And the Arab-American and Muslim vote may have been key to President Biden’s electoral college win in Michigan.
Arab-American voter participation and engagement are on the rise thanks to the efforts of organizations such as the Arab American Institute and Emgage.
One of the obstacles facing Arab-Americans working in any US administration is the barrage of opposition by many in the Israel lobby who falsely view the presence of Arab voices as problematic, if not downright “antisemitic.” This could be witnessed in the backlash against Congresswomen Rachida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar almost as soon as they took office in 2019 as the first Muslim women members of Congress, whom Israel later banned from entering the country essentially at the request of former President Trump.
One of the obstacles facing Arab-Americans working in any US administration is the barrage of opposition by many in the Israel lobby who falsely view the presence of Arab voices as problematic.
Notably, members of Congress cannot typically be fired except by their constituents. In the executive branch, however, government officials are vulnerable not only to such criticism but also to potential dismissal by a pressured administration for positions they may hold regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Biden Administration Taps Muslim Americans
Some have argued that 20 years on from 9/11, America needs to open a new chapter on Muslims and embrace this diverse group of citizens. It is suggested that the Biden administration needs an inclusive foreign policy toward the Muslim world that “draws upon the talents of Muslim Americans, who are better situated to be a trusted bridge between Washington and Muslim capitals.”
Some have argued that 20 years on from 9/11, America needs to open a new chapter on Muslims and embrace this diverse group of citizens.
The Biden administration appears to be doing just that with the appointments of a dozen American Muslims not of Arab origin.
Kashmir-born Aisha Shah has been tapped for a senior position at the White House Office of Digital Strategy as Partnership Manager. Sameera Fazili, the daughter of two Kashmir-born doctors, has been selected as Deputy Director at the US National Economic Council.
Other Muslims not of Arab origin tapped for the Biden administration include: Uzra Zeya (Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights); Pakistani-American Ali Zaidi (White House Deputy National Climate Advisor); Bangladeshi-American Zayn Siddique (White House Deputy Chief of Staff); African-American Samiyyah Ali (White House Deputy Associate Counsel); Pakistani-American Salman Ahmed (Director of Policy Planning, State Department); Farook Mitha (Director of Small Business Programs at the Office of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Policy); and Pakistani-American Saima Mohsin (US Attorney for Eastern District of Attorney).
With around 4,000 appointments in total needing to be filled by the Biden administration, and the increasing visibility and participation in politics in general by Arab-Americans and Muslims—particularly during the Biden presidential campaign, more of such appointments may well be in the cards.