Published on January 24, 2011 by Amy
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James George Abourezk (born February 24, 1931) is a former Democratic United States Representative and United States Senator, and was the first Arab-American to serve in the United States Senate. He represented South Dakota in the U.S. Senate from 1973 until 1979.
Born to Christian Lebanese parents, who had emigrated from the southern Lebanese village of EI-Kfeir, Abourezk was born in Wood and lived in South Dakota most of his life. Between 1948 and 1952, he served in the United States Navy during the Korean War. Back in the U.S., he received a degree in civil engineering from South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City in 1961, and then earned an advanced degree from University of South Dakota School of Law in Vermillion in 1966. He passed the bar, and began a legal practice in Rapid City.
He was elected as a Democrat to the House of Representatives, and served from 1971 to 1973. He then was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until 1979.
As a senator, he criticized the Office of Public Safety (OPS), a U.S. agency linked to the USAID and the CIA that provided training to foreign police forces. He also was the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs and of the American Indian Policy Review Commission. Abourezk was an early supporter of the National initiative and with fellow Senator Mark O. Hatfield (R-OR) introduced an amendment allowing more direct democracy. However, this initiative failed.
In 1974, TIME magazine named Senator Abourezk one of the 200 Faces for the Future.
In 1978, Abourezk chose not to run for reelection.
In 1980, Abourezk founded the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee, a grassroots civil rights organization. In 1989, he wrote Advise and Dissent: Memoirs of South Dakota and the U.S. Senate (ISBN 1-55652-066-2) and he is the co-author of “Through Different Eyes: Two Leading Americans — a Jew and an Arab — Debate U. S. Policy in the Middle East.”
Abourezk now works as a lawyer and writer in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
In the CounterPunch interview, Abourezk also argued that America’s support of Israel endures because “the Congress is pretty much reliant on money from radical Zionists”.
He reiterated this statement in an editorial for Electronic Intifada on July 30, 2006, where he wrote:
In a letter dated December 2006, Abourezk wrote:
I see no desire on the part of Members of Congress to further any U.S. imperial dreams by using Israel as their pit bull. The only exceptions to that rule is the feelings of Jewish members, who, I believe, are sincere in their efforts to keep U.S. money flowing to Israel.
I believe that divestment, and especially cutting off U.S. aid to Israel would immediately result in Israel’s giving up the West Bank and leaving the Gaza to the Palestinians. Such pressure would work, I think, because the Israeli public would be able to determine what is causing their misery and would demand that an immediate peace agreement be made with the Palestinians.”