Middle East Eye / November 25, 2020
Reema Dodin, reportedly set to become first Palestinian-American White House staffer, has come under fire from right over past comments critical of Israel.
The woman understood to be the first Palestinian-American named as a senior White House administration staffer has come under fire from right-wing activists over her past pro-Palestine activism. Democrats have largely been coming to her defence.
President-elect Joe Biden earlier this week announced that Reema Dodin was set to serve as deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs, triggering a pushback from conservative figures on Fox News and social media.
Dodin is currently the deputy chief of staff and floor director for Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, who celebrated her appointment in a post on Twitter on Tuesday.
“Excited that my Floor Director, Reema Dodin, will be joining President-elect Biden’s Leg Affairs team. She is smart, trusted, & has the respect of members on both sides of the aisle,” Durbin said.
But comments Dodin made nearly 20 years ago, taken out of context, quickly stirred up controversy on Fox News and other right-wing outlets, which have highlighted parts of a 2002 speech when Dodin, a university student at the time, said Palestinian suicide bombers “were the last resort of a desperate people”.
In the speech, Dodin reportedly accused Israeli authorities of cutting off water supplies “to coerce the Palestinian population”. Israel has long been accused of denying Palestinians, particularly those in Gaza, the resources needed to access clean water, and has been known to cut off electricity to Palestinian communities as a form of collective punishment.
The Biden team has addressed criticism coming from the news network, releasing a statement to journalists on Wednesday.
“Reema is the first to tell you she has grown from her youth in her approach to pushing for change, but her core values of fighting to expand opportunity to building a stronger middle class remain her driving force,” a spokesperson for the transition team said.
“She harnessed her activism into action, becoming a well-respected and trusted leader in the US Senate. Her years of Senate experience and perspective will help President-elect Biden and Vice-President Harris respond to our nation’s most urgent challenges.”
On Twitter, Pam Geller, an anti-Muslim activist, also targeted Dodin’s appointment, saying, “Jihad” and “Islam is back in the White House”.
But Democrats – particularly those involved with the Senate – and left-leaning advocates have largely come to Dodin’s defence on the social media platform.
An ‘effort to silence and delegitimise’
“You would be hard-pressed to find someone as talented, passionate, and whip smart as Reema Dodin in Washington DC,” Oregon Senator Ron Wyden tweeted on Wednesday. “The Biden administration couldn’t have picked a more capable person to join its team to work with Congress.”
Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey also spoke up for Dodin.
“The Biden Administration will need the best hearts and minds in DC and across the country to combat the challenges ahead. In Reema Dodin, they’ve found both,” Casey tweeted.
Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal added: “Over my 10 years in the Senate, Reema has been an invaluable source of insight & counsel.
“She is invariably conscientious & caring, & the Biden Admin is lucky to have her. I’ll miss her on the Senate Floor, but look forward to working w/her in her new role.
Halie Soifer, executive director for the Jewish Democratic Council of America, called the attacks against Dodin “baseless”.
“Reema Dodin is a tireless public servant who will work to restore the soul of our nation in the Biden White House,” Soifer tweeted. “Reema did not justify suicide bombers and I know that she’s committed to combating hatred in all of its forms, including anti-Semitism.”
Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Human Rights Program, said the attacks on Dodin were meant to dissuade anyone from speaking up against Israel’s occupation for fear of retribution later in their career.
“Smearing Reema Dodin is part of greater effort to silence and delegitimise anyone who at some point in their life voiced strong criticism of Israel or engaged in activism in support of Palestinian human rights,” Dakwar tweeted. “It is particularly troubling when such smears target women of colour.”
More attacks against critics of Israel
Meanwhile, Karine Jean-Pierre, one of the women reportedly being considered for the role of Biden’s press secretary, has also started to come under attack.
One of the Biden campaign’s senior advisers, in 2019 Jean-Pierre urged Democratic candidates to boycott the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference.
In an op-ed published by Newsweek that year, she celebrated the fact that not a single Democratic candidate chose to attend the event, saying AIPAC spouted “severely racist, Islamophobic rhetoric”.
“The organization has become known for trafficking in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric while lifting up Islamophobic voices and attitudes. As we’ve seen over the course of the Trump administration’s tenure, words can prove just as destructive as laws. Anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric doesn’t simply sit in a silo,” she wrote.
Jean-Pierre has also made comments in favour of the Palestinian-led Boycott Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to isolate Israel over its human rights violations. Biden, however, has spoken out against the movement.
Her consideration for the press secretary position has been criticised by The Jewish Voice, Breitbart and other right-wing media.
Sheren Khalel is a Washington DC-based journalist who has previously worked throughout the Middle East, focusing on human rights, refugee issues and conflict