Iymen Chehade: A New Possibility For Liberal Arab American Leadership

According to the World Population Review, Illinois has the highest Muslim population in the United States, with a majority of Arab-Americans. 72% of Muslims in America are second-generation immigrants, and Iymen Chehade, Illinois’s latest participant in the race for Congress, is one of them.

Chehade calls himself a ‘community leader, artist, businessman, and former high school drop-out turned college professor, who believes that he can ‘bring a fresh voice and an outsider mentality’ to Congress. He is well-known as a community organizer and orator, who has presented at several conferences and discussions, at academic institutions such as George Mason University, University of Chicago, and School of Art Institute of Chicago. He has also worked as an actor both on screen and on stage and has produced and directed in theatres across Chicago. He intends to utilize a building belonging to his family to open a new community theatre in the coming year.

Currently, Chehade teaches Middle Eastern history at Columbia College and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a course that he created and implemented. In 2014, he was at the center of controversy when his course was canceled after a student reportedly complained to the administration. The student stated that Chehade exhibited ‘bias’ after Chehade had shown his class the documentary Five Broken Cameras, about the struggle against the occupation in Bil’in.

If elected, Chehade will be representing a new district that was drawn recently by state officials by taking sections from other districts. This gerrymandering has led to some apprehension, as nine residing members of Congress who have advocated strongly against American aid for Israel and Israel’s policies could perhaps be looking at slimmer chances of re-election and a possible campaign realignment.

According to the new district map, the district that Iymen Chehade hopes to preside over is the third congressional district. The original third district, with its sizeable Arab American population, is now the sixth congressional district. The remapping of Illinois was approved in November by Governor J.B. Pritzker, who has been known to be one of Israel’s most vocal supporters. He has also formerly made controversial remarks during an earlier congressional race in which he referred to the American Muslim Council as a terrorist organization, consequently drawing critique from the Arab American community.

Chehade has also been in the news earlier in 2020 for pressing charges against current Congressman Marie Newman, claiming that he was denied a job by Newman after she had signed an agreement with her to drop out of the 2020 elections and take up a senior position in her team instead, thereby giving her a better chance of re-election.

According to Chehade, he helped Newman draft ‘a powerful statement in support of Palestinian rights.’ They had differences over the content of the draft, with Newman refusing to endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, although supporting the right of the citizens to do so. Chehade states she also retreated from the possibility of a single-state solution; instead, she recognized Israel as a ‘democratic and Jewish’ state. Chehade says that he told Newman, ‘to say Israel is a Jewish state is tantamount to saying America is a white state or a Christian state.’

Chehade says in his campaign that if elected, he will advocate for a ‘Marshall Plan’ for the United States, one that is ‘inspired by the post-World War II rebuilding of Europe.’ He plans on ‘investing in social institutions and public infrastructure, and rehabilitating our economy by empowering working people and their children.’

His plan includes reforming the tax system by working with local and state officials to ensure that taxes are based on household income and not the market, alongside incentivizing and establishing small businesses and agricultural development, with increased economic support for family farmers, and better access to social services to address mental health, food deserts and caring for the less privileged.

Chehade plans on ‘federal prioritization of undeserved schools’, with competitive salaries and job security for daycare workers and PreK-12 educators, and federal aid for the formation of trade schools.

He also advocates for the abolition of private prison contractors who personally profit from incarcerated individuals, ending cash bail and improving social services for those reentering society, and voices support for immigrants, by ‘providing a pathway to citizenship and strengthening support services that assist in integrating immigrants into their communities.’

Chehade says he ‘knows the district very well’ because he has his roots there. His parents moved to Illinois in the 60s from Palestine, and he was born and raised in the district. Chehade believes in the restoration and revitalization of the middle class in the district and across the nation. As he puts it, ‘We deserve representatives who will work to create healthy and vibrant communities, so that the American Dream — one of health, happiness, and success — is attainable, regardless of the situation and circumstances you were born into.’

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