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Arab American caucus asks Iowa Democratic Party to apologize



Rita Hart speaks during a campaign rally in October 2018 at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Rita Hart speaks during a campaign rally in October 2018 at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — A day after Iowa Democratic Party leadership condemned University of Iowa student Democrats for an “antisemitic” social media post, the chair of the state party’s Arab American caucus accused his party leadership of misquoting the students and called for an apology.

Newman Abuissa, Arab American caucus chair
Newman Abuissa, Arab American caucus chair

“The Iowa Democratic Party’s statement misquotes and misconstrues the original statement,” according to an email that Newman Abuissa, of Iowa City, sent Friday morning to state party Chair Rita Hart.

“We call on Rita Hart to correct the quote, and we stand with the IDP’s Progressive Caucus in calling for Rita Hart to apologize to University Democrats at Iowa.”

Democratic state party leadership did not respond Friday to The Gazette’s request for comment.

Although the original University Democrats at Iowa social media post about the Israel-Hamas war has been taken down, Hart on Thursday widely disseminated a statement summarizing the student post as including the phrase, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.”

“This phrase is antisemitic and can make members of our Jewish community feel unsafe because it calls for genocide,” Hart wrote. “It has also been frequently used by terrorist organizations such as Hamas to incite violence and hatred.”

In that message, Hart said she had spoken with the UI student organization president, who she said acknowledged “internal disagreement about the post and concern over its antisemitism.”

“As a former teacher, I believe it’s vital we, as a society, educate ourselves and reject unacceptable language,” Hart wrote. “I’m well aware there are deep disagreements within our party regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, there is no room for antisemitism, Islamophobia or racism — no matter what.”

Although Hart said she can’t force the student leaders to resign, she asked them to.

“I believe extremely poor judgment has been shown by a few members of the U of I Democrats and there needs to be no doubt that that type of language does not represent the Democratic Party,” she wrote.

But Abuissa said Friday the student Democrats’ statement did not use the specific language that Hart alleged.

“The original University Democrats at Iowa statement was ‘May every Palestinian live long and free, from the river to the sea,’ ” Abuissa said.

“The Arab American Caucus of the Iowa Democratic Party stands with University Democrats at Iowa in support of the freedom of every Palestinian: in Gaza, the West Bank, east Jerusalem, and inside Israel itself, as well as the right of return for Palestinians in line with the U.N. Resolution 242 and 338, as approved by the United States Government.”

Abuissa said the state party wrongly accused the students of calling for “Jewish genocide.”

“In fact, genocide is occurring right now as Israel bombs Gaza indiscriminately, killing over 8,800 people, including more than 3,600 children,” Abuissa wrote.

Abuissa’s reproof adds to criticism Iowa State University College Democrats levied against the state party Thursday, disaffiliating with the state party for its condemnation of the UI students.

“This is not a decision we have taken lightly,” according to the ISU College Democrats statement. “But one that we believe is in the best interest of our club and our commitment to advancing our values and principles.”

Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.

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