Before a packed and proud audience of mainly Muslim and Christian Arabs, Rev. Khader El-Yateem yesterday officially kicked off his campaign for the vacant 43rd City Council Seat at the Le Sajj Restaurant, 8221 Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge.
El-Yateem, pastor of the Salam Arabic Lutheran Church, 414 80th Street in Bay Ridge, is both the first Arab and the first Palestinian-Arab to run for a city council seat, and one of the first – if not the first to run for a political office nationally. The district includes Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and parts of Bensonhurst and Bath Beach.
“We are making history and being here today you are part of that history,” said Palestinian-American Nationalist Linda Sarsour, who served as the MC for the event and implored the packed restaurant to dig deep into their pockets to write a check for El-Yateem’s campaign. “If you elect Khader El-Yateem you will have better than the first Arab-American into the City Council. If you get him you get all of us into the City Council.”
El-Yateem, married with three kids, immigrated to America in 1995 from Bethlehem, a Palestinian town south of Jerusalem in the West Bank, and the biblical birthplace of Jesus. He said his main priority once elected is to continue to work on unity and building bridges in the district as he feels the last election of Donald Trump has divided the community.
“I will make sure to knock on every door and shake every hand because we cannot afford to have a divided community. We can differ in our political views, but we continue to live next to each other. Our kids go to school with each other and we have to make sure that our kids can learn to co-exist in this wonderful country we call America,” El-Yateem said.
“Number two, I’m going to work on economic justice. I want to make sure that the kids that grow up in this community can afford to stay in this community and not have to leave this community because they can’t afford a mortgage or get a good job and care for their children. They are the strength of our community.”
While El-Yateem vows to represent the whole community, the importance of having an Arab-American, and specifically being the first Arab-American in the city council is not lost on him.
“My passion and love is to give this community a voice. A voice of unity and a strong message. I want to make history by having this community send the first Arab-American to the city council. This community has a great opportunity to say we are not afraid to send an Arab-American to the City Council and I am going to be that first Arab-American,” he said.
And although the City Council generally deals only with city issues, El-Yateem feels he must also give a strong voice to Arab-Americans regarding the Middle East and Israel. This includes weighing in on the Council’s 40-4 passage last year of a nonbinding resolution to condemn the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, which condemns “all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the global movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction the people of Israel.”
“It is only about New York City, but I think sometimes the City Council has allowed itself to get involved in international affairs like voting on the BDS resolution, and I felt the Arab and Muslim voice was not present at the table and to give a different point of view. How we can use non-violent resistance to combat evil or occupation or combat things that endanger our lives,” said El-Yateem.
“I stand against Islamaphobia. I stand against anti-Semitism and I belive in the current time we live in the bigotry, the anti-Semitism like the desecration against a Jewish cemetery yesterday in Philadelphia – I stand against that. I’m about building bridges between the Jewish community to the Muslim Community to the Christian community. I come from Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. I understand very well that his mission came with great risk of sufferings, and i know this mission of running for city council is going to challenging at times with a lot of risks and sacrifices and I am willing to make that sacrifice.”
El-Yateem joins an already crowded field of Democratic hopefuls looking to replace term-limited City Councilman Vincent Gentile to represent the district.
Other Democrats running include Justin Brannan, Kevin Peter Carroll, Nancy Tong and Peter Abbate, who participated in candidate forums, but has yet to officially announce he is running.