[Ikhras Note: Unsurprisingly alleged comedian Dean Obeidallah has failed to digest the irony of someone that launches a career as a nominal Muslim Arab on the far fringe of American pop culture dismissing the dedicated work of an American solidarity activist because she doesn’t share an Arab-Islamic heritage. Ethnicity is a chance of birth and religious persuasion is a personal choice. You don’t have to be a Palestinian, an Arab, or a Muslim to recognize and be part of the struggle against Zionism and injustice in Palestine. Our universal human values should lead all of us to accept and promote a shared global responsibility for fighting against injustice, racism, ethnic cleansing, occupation, imperialism, and war wherever it may exist. In this special guest submission ikhras friend Tammy Obeidallah shares her personal experience with Obeidallah and makes it clear that Palestine is not a punch line for aspiring American comedians, it is a morally compelling cause that has enlisted people of conscience from all backgrounds.]
By: Tammy Obeidallah*
In May 2007, I was working as a staff writer for the Daily Advocate in Greenville, Ohio. While the newspaper is a small-town rag if there ever was one, it served as a forum to write as much about Palestine as possible to a largely conservative “Christian” Zionist community.
One day a message showed up in my inbox at the newspaper’s account from Dean Obeidallah. He had contacted me out of the blue, asking if we were related. I informed him my then father-in-law and his father were first cousins. He offered me free tickets to the upcoming Axis of Evil show in Cleveland, Ohio. Only vaguely familiar with his name at the time, I agreed to go.
Right away, I felt uncomfortable in the Starbucks-drinking audience, but stuck it out. The comedy was mediocre at best; in fact, the highlight of the evening was when Aron Kader called Dick Cheney’s hunting partner a filthy name. Afterward, the performers and several audience members, myself included, went to a nearby bowling alley. I started talking about Palestine, mistakenly thinking Obeidallah would be interested. He sat there drinking a glass of wine and responded with the occasional “wow, you really know a lot about the issues,” without further elaboration. He asked about my family and informed me that although his father was Muslim, he had chosen the Christian faith. This of course would be irrelevant to me, except that in recent television appearances, he has not only claimed Islam, but has promoted himself as an expert in the field, despite a recent exchange on Twitter in which he revealed his ignorance of the most basic tenets of Islam by stating Muslims worship Jesus and Mary. I spent the rest of my time that evening talking to a couple of Arab-American students about Palestine, Iraq and American foreign policy in general.
Since Obeidallah’s original query came to my inbox at the newspaper, it is probable he was hoping for some free publicity; not knowing the paper had a circulation of a mere 7,000 and not realizing the distance between Greenville and Cleveland. I never did do a write-up on the show and never heard from Obeidallah again, even after I e-mailed him urgently requesting he not support the presidential candidacy of then Senator Barack Obama, who early on showed he was no friend to Palestinians. Coincidentally, I ran into a Dayton-based comedian who had performed along with Obeidallah in the Axis of Evil show that night. He informed me that from his experience, Obeidallah would never continue communicating with someone unless he thought they could do something for his “career.”
Obeidallah evidently considers his career and public image to be of utmost importance; therefore it is understandable why he would swiftly respond to any hint of criticism. However, he leaves himself wide open when he goes so far as to assume he is suddenly an authority on Islam, Palestine and Arab culture simply by virtue of being biologically half-Palestinian—and that, only after 9/11, as he has stated in numerous televised interviews. Still more unacceptable is that he would attack someone who has, all told, lived a couple years among Palestinian refugees in the Arab World; yet according to him, has no credibility for being the wrong ethnicity.
The diverse body standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people must reject divisive racial overtones. It is imperative that the community endorse those who can do an effective job of educating the broader population as to the devastating consequences imperialist foreign policies have had on Palestinians and Arab peoples enslaved by western-backed dictatorships. We must not let mainstream media—a government tool—choose spokespeople for us.
*Ikhras friend and guest contributor Tammy Obeidallah was born and raised in the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio. She graduated from Eastern New Mexico University, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. She has traveled to 45 countries including Palestine, Egypt, Morocco, Syria and Pakistan and lived for over a year in Amman, Jordan.