James Abourezk

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James Abourezk

James George Abourezk (born 1931) is a former Democratic Party U.S. Congressman and Senator from South Dakota. His wife Sana'a is Syrian born.

Early life

Born to Christian Lebanese immigrant parents, James Abourezk was born in Wood, South Dakota and has lived in the state most of his life. Abourezk served in the U.S. Navy between 1948 and 1952. He then received a civil engineering degree from the South Dakota School of Mines in in 1961, followed by an advanced degree from the University of South Dakota School of Law in 1966. Abourezk then practiced law in Rapid City.

Political career

Abourezk was elected to the House of Representatives, and served as a Congressman from 1971 to 1973. He then won election to the U.S. Senate, where he served until 1979, but did not seek a second term.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, Abourezk was a member of the Interior and the Judiciary Committees. In the Senate, Abourezk served on the Energy Committee, the Budget Committee, the Space and Aeronautics Committee, and the Judiciary Committee. He created by legislation--and chaired--the American Indian Policy Review Commission, which was a two year study of American Indian policy that resulted in a series of broad recommendations for change in policy. Creation of a full Senate Indian Affairs Committee was one of the results of the Commission, a committee which Abourezk chaired until he left the Senate

First trip to Middle East

After being elected to the Senate in 1973, Abourezk made his first tour of the Middle East, meeting with[1]Yasser Arafat, the president of Lebanon, King Hussein in Jordan, Anwar Sadat in Egypt, Syria’s Hafez Al-Assad, King Faisal in Saudi Arabia and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. All told the South Dakota senator that if Israel would withdraw to its pre-1967 borders, they would recognize and make peace with the Zionist state.

When I returned to Washington,” Abourezk recalled, “I called a press conference and repeated what the leaders had told me. Wolf Blitzer...wrote an article published in January 1974 accusing me of selling out to the Arabs. That was the Israeli response to the peace proposal. And that’s the same proposal that Crown Prince Abdullah has put on the table, with the same response by Israel.

Abouezk later elaborated[2] "People I thought were friends became instant enemies...Guys who worked on my campaign stopped speaking to me. Worse, they started spreading rumors about me being anti-Semitic.

Wolf Blitzer, who then wrote articles for a journal published by AIPAC {American Israel Public Affairs Committee} said vicious stuff about me 'selling out to the Arabs,' because I spoke about Israel withdrawing to the pre-1967 borders in exchange for the Arab governments signing a peace agreement with Israel, which they told me they would do."

Trip to People's Republic of China

In January 1978 Senate Majority Whip Alan Cranston urged the United States yesterday to normalize relations with the People's Republic of China "as soon as possible" along lines suggested by the Chinese. Cranston, who led a 10-member congressional delegation on a four-city tour of China, said he doesn't believe that Peking will try to take Taiwan by force if the United States renounces a mutual defense treaty in effect since 1954. The California Democrat, declaring that he feels more urgently about the need to set up diplomatic ties with China because of his trip, said, "I feel we should do so swiftly, that we should recognize the absurdity of maintaining our relationship with Taiwan on the grounds it is the government of all China. Clearly, it is not. . . Cranston noted the terms outlined by Peking for normalized relations: an end to U.S.-Taiwanese diplomatic relations although trade and cultural ties could continue; an end to the mutual U.S.Taiwanese defense treaty and withdrawal of U.S. military personnel from the island off the Asian mainland.

"I think we should proceed on those termsas soon as possible," Cranston said. Defense treaty He noted that renouncing the mutual defense treaty would eliminate a legal obligation for the United States to intervene if Peking moves militarily against Taiwan. It would not preclude such a move, however, if the United States decided one were necessary. Cranston said he discussed his views with President Jimmy Carter on Monday aboard the plane carrying Carter back to Washington from Minnesota, where he attended funeral services for Hubert Humphrey. Carter "didn't comment," he said. United States policy, as set out in the Shanghai Communique signed at the end of President Richard Nixon's trip to China in 1972, favors eventual normalization in diplomatic relations. But the question of Taiwan has been the main stumbling block. Cranston declined to say precisely how soon he thinks the United States can move toward normalized relations with Peking. "I doubt that practically it can be done this year," he said, especially in view of administration foreign policy concerns with the Panama Canal treaties and strategic arms limitation talks with the Soviet Union. Not fearful But he also said he was not fearful that the issue would be politically damaging if it were raised in advance of the 1980 presidential elections. "I think there will be some uproar and then when China doesn't make an immediate grab for Taiwan it will die down," he said.

With Cranston in China for a 14-day trip that ended a day early because of Humphrey's death were Sens. Charles Mathias (R-Md.), James Abourezk (D-S.D.), Gary Hart (D-Colo.), and Richard Lugar (R-lnd.) and Reps. Charles Whalen (R-Ohio), James Weaver (D-Ore.), Stephen Neal (D-N.C.), Fred Richmond (D-N.Y.) and Steven Solarz (D-N.Y.). The group traveled to Peking, Shanghai, Nanking and Canton, touring numerous facilities as well as holding discussions with several Chinese officials. Cranston said he found among Chinese leaders a "discouraging acceptance of the inevitably of war" because of differences between the United States and Russia.[3]

Trips to Cuba

The Atlantic Monthly of May 1977 reported[4] that U.S. Senators, Floyd Haskell (D-Colo.) and James Abourezk (D-S.D.), were vacationing just a few miles outside of Havana. The Monthly added that Haskell and Abourezk expressed the opinion that enmity between Cuba and the United States would soon begin to ease.

"Ford just used the Angola thing as an excuse" to put off normalizing relations, Abourezk volunteered. "If Angola hadn't come up, they would have found something else." Both men proclaimed themselves "extremely impressed" with Cuba, Abourezk observing that the change from pre-Castro days is "dramatic and startling."

In the mid-1970s, in response to Cuban desires for better US/Cuba relations, James Abourezk and George McGovern, two U.S. senators from South Dakota who had visited Cuba often in the previous two years, broached the possibility of a sports competition.

The U.S. State Department shot down the idea in 1976. That changed the following year after President Jimmy Carter came to power. In April 1977, a team of six USD players and five South Dakota State University players flew to Havana with their coaches.

Abourezk and McGovern joined the teams, but were more interested in politics[5]than sport.

Said Abourezk;

As for Raul Castro, the only people who got to spend much time with him in 1977 were Abourezk and McGovern. Today, Americans shouldn't expect Cuba to change dramatically now that the younger brother has succeeded Fidel Castro...
If the leader would die tomorrow, nothing would change besides a change in the head of government...They've got a government in place. It's an established government.

Institute for Policy Studies activist and personal friend of Abourezk's Saul Landau also joined the party, covering the trip for the Washington Post.

Relationship to accused Cuban spies

When Kendall Myers and his wife Gwendolyn were arrested and accused of spying for Cuba in June 2009, James Abourezk fielded some media questions regarding the couple.


Kendall Myers was allegedly recruited during a trip to Cuba in 1978. After returning from Cuba, he moved to South Dakota to be with his new girlfriend, Gwendolyn Steingraber, a divorced Capitol Hill staffer for Senator James Abourezk.[6]

According to Abourezk "She worked in Aberdeen, handling constituent affairs...I knew her as a very generous, caring person."

Myers also impressed the Senator. "He was a very good guy, very compassionate, humanitarian," Abourezk said.

When Abourezk chose not to stand for re-election, Steingraber returned to a job in South Dakota with the Public Utility Commission, promoting solar energy. Myers went with her.

According to the government indictment, it was while in South Dakota that Gwendolyn Myers was visited by a Cuban official and recruited to spy.

Soon after that the couple moved back to Washington DC. Myers rejoined the State Department after being turned down by the CIA. Steingraber went to work for Riggs Bank and the couple married in 1982. The Cubans gave them spy ID codes: Kendall Myers was "202," while his wife was "123," court documents say.

Serving Iran-hostage crisis

After leaving the U.S. Senate Abourezk and partner Thomas Shack through their firm Abourezk Shack & Mendenhall, became general counsel[7]for the revolutionary Islamic government of Iran, working through the Iranian embassy in Washington DC.

When the U.S. embassy seige in Iran turned into full-blown hostage cris Abourezk unsuccessfully tried to intervene.

I was actually general counsel for the government of Iran here in Washington at that time, for the embassy here in Washington. It was about two weeks after the embassy was taken over, I decided I'd go over and try to obtain the release of the hostages. So I went over and I negotiated with Bani Sadr, who was then chairman of the Revolutionary Council. And I worked out a deal with him. I -- what the Iranians wanted was to air their grievances against the United States, of which they had many at that time, by the way. You know, we had supported the shah while he was torturing and killing Iranian citizens. They had found, by the way, in the basement of the American Embassy a CIA counterfeiting operation, counterfeiting American money. They were very upset about that --Iranian money, not American money.
And so anyhow, I-- knowing this -- I said to Bani Sadr, "Look, if you want to air your grievances, I think, in return for the release of the hostages, that I can get the U.S. Senate to hold big publicized hearings allowing you to do just that." Well, we worked out a deal. It'd be a three-step deal, where we would announce the hearings, he would release the hostages and then we would have the hearings. And he said, "All right. You take that to the Senate and I'll take it to the Revolutionary Council. We'll try to work it through."
So I called Senator Byrd, who was of West Virginia, who was majority leader, and proposed it to him. I called him from Iran. Then when I got back from Iran, I called him up and he said, "Well, the administration is opposed to that kind of a thing." Because Jimmy Carter at that time was standing tough. He was trying to look like he didn't want to negotiate.

Palestine Human Rights Campaign

A brochure came out in early 1978 announcing "A National Organizing Conference" sponsored by the Palestine Human Rights Campaign to be held on May 20-21, 1978, at American University, with the theme of "Palestinian Human Rights and Peace".

The list of "Sponsors" was a mix of a several groupings including the Communist Party USA and its sympathizers, the World Peace Council, the Hanoi Lobby, black extremists, mainly marxists, radical Christians, and Arab/Arab-American organizations, plus a few phone-booth sized pro-Palestinian Christian groups.

Individual sponsors of the event included Senator James Abourezk.

Abourezk and ACORN

James Abourezk was an early and important ally of ACORN when it was still named Arkansas Community Organizations for Reform Now and still operating eclusively in that state. ACORN leader Wade Rathke quotes[8]veteram ACORN organizer Dewey Armstrong on how James Abourezk helped establish the first ACORN outpost outside Arkansas in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Apart from Jim Abourezk (D-S.D.), who invited us to organize in South Dakota when ACORN still stood for Arkansas Community Organizations for Reform Now, and greatly facilitated our setting-up operations (after 2 years training and organizing in North Little Rock, Little Rock, and Conway I was deputized to try and make it happen in South Dakota as Head Organizer of what soon became the 2nd of eventually 20+ ACORNs affiliated (not w/o periodic conflict) and acting together on the larger issues that faced us, while committed to staying grounded in the local, citywide, and statewide campaigns that were crucial to the interests of our low-to-moderate-income multi-racial and multi-ethnic membership;

Institute for Policy Studies

In 1993 James Abourezk was listed[9] among former "Trustees" of the Institute for Policy Studies, Washington DC.

According to Information Digest[10]the 1980 IPS Board of Trustees includes former U.S. Senator James Abourezk, who with his partner Thomas Shack represents the Iranian revolutionary government and is active with, pro-Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) groups.

The Washington School

The Washington School, founded by the Institute for Policy Studies, in 1978, was an important means of influencing Congress and the Democratic Party. Courses on defense, foreign affairs, and domestic policies are taught there by IPS officers and staffers, and other American or foreign radical "experts." A large number of members of Congress and staffers have attended these schools. Several legislators have also taught there, including the following:

Supported by Council for a Livable World

The Council for a Livable World, founded in 1962 by long-time socialist activist and alleged Soviet agent, Leo Szilard, is a non-profit advocacy organization that seeks to "reduce the danger of nuclear weapons and increase national security", primarily through supporting progressive, congressional candidates who support their policies. The Council supported James Abourezk in his successful Senate run as candidate for South Dakota.[12]

Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee

In May, 1980, Abourezk founded[13] the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), to combat the "unfair stereotyping" of Arabs in the media. After the invasion of Lebanon, ADC played a major role in organizing demonstrations, marches, press conferences and other events in protest at the Israeli military action. Asked if the new activities were not a departure from ADC's original purposes, Abourezk replied;"It's all really part of the same problem. If Arabs were not portrayed by stereotyping as being less than human, some of the things that the Israelis do to them over there would not be so easily accepted by public opinion here."

Abourezk chaired[14] the organization from 1980 to 1995.

Anti-Israel newspaper campaign

During the 1980s Abourezk campaigned hard against U.S. support for the state of Israel.

If the American public could be made to understand that our congressmen perpetuate aid to Israel so that it can humiliate and subjugate the Palestinians, things might change,” he added. “But the people must learn the facts. Americans don’t know they are sending $20 million to Israel every day. If people knew how Israel uses this aid to oppress the Palestinians, they would put a stop to it. All we need to do is put this scandal in the headlines of U.S. newspapers for one week.

In 1985 Abourezk tried to do just that[15]-resulting, in Abourezk's view, in the death of ADC activist Alex Odeh.

“In 1985...I ran full-page ads at the cost of $30,000 each for four days straight in The Washington Post. These ads specified how much this aid costs Americans and what it was being used for. A few days later, Alex Odeh, the ADC representative in California, was assassinated by a pipe bomb rigged to his office door. This was a message to ADC to stop those ads.”

2002 trip to Iraq

In 2002 Virginia Democratic Party Congressman Nick Rahall (also of Lebanese descent), asked Abourezk to accompany him on an humanitarian mission to Iraq. Abourezk then invited Institute for Policy Studies Fellow Saul Landau to accompany them.

Harold Samhat, a retired Arab American businessman also joined the delegation as did Knight Ridder correspondent Warren Strobel.

Saul Landau wrote an extensive report[16]on the trip for The Progessive, November 2002.

What lessons has Saddam learned from the Gulf War? Landau asked Abourezk.

We'll see, but I'm not optimistic, Abourezk replied. We have to talk Iraqi officials into doing something they don't want to do: Readmit the U.N. weapons inspectors Clinton ordered to leave in 1998. Otherwise, Bush'll bomb the shit out of the Iraqis..]

Rahall told Wadah Kasimi, the Iraqi official in charge of their visit, to cancel the visit to alleged sites of weapons of mass destruction because, said Abourezk, we wouldn't know a Vaseline-making plant from an anthrax factory, so why bother?

On the first day, the delegation visited the offices of Dr. Omed Mubarak, Iraqi minister of health. He explained how the U.S. and British delegates that sit on the UN committee overseeing the sanctions destroy the integrity of our health system by vetoing our access to crucial parts of chemotherapy cocktails and surgical equipment because they might have military use.

To illustrate Mubarak's argument, Landau wrote he sends us to a nearby pediatric hospital where we observe a Kurdish girl clinging to her desperate-looking mother. The little girl has blood oozing from her mouth. The doctors explain that they have no medicines to treat her leukemia.

I have a daughter about her age," Abourezk says, trying to hide his tears. Dr. Mubarak describes how children have developed leukemia after playing with shrapnel from depleted uranium bombs dropped by U.S. planes. Bush rightly condemns Iraq for using chemical weapons, but he fails to own up to the extensive use by the United States of shells tipped with depleted uranium. There has been a plethora of deformed births in southern Iraq, where most of the depleted uranium ordnance was dropped--children born with no heads, with enlarged heads, with other killing birth defects.

The delegation also visits Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

Landau re-counts, Abourezk knew Aziz back in the 1980s, and while he and Rahall meet with Aziz privately, the rest of us contemplate several Saddam portraits adorning the waiting room walls. These icons of Saddam, in prayer, in derby with rifle, in uniform saluting, are ubiquitous...The Congressman and former Senator reemerge from Aziz's office with the owlish-looking Iraqi official behind them, dressed in his canned spinach green uniform, belt drawn tightly around his belly. Now in his seventies, Aziz belongs to the dwindling fraternity of original Ba'ath Party members who made the revolution in 1979 and survived Saddam Hussein's ruthless whim.

Jim, the Iraqi people need peace, Aziz asserts. But the Bush Administration wants no talk, no dialogue about any matter. It threatens to attack and then invade and our regime should be changed. What are the pretexts? If, for instance, W.M.D. [weapons of mass destruction] are a genuine concern, I have said repeatedly that it could be resolved. I don't understand why the American Congress didn't respond positively to our fact-finding mission. We allowed them to bring any experts, any equipment they needed. It's not that difficult a job to trace such activities. In UNSCOM they have the instruments to detect any biological or chemical weapon or nuclear activity. It's not going to take years for the Congress to be assured that there is no activity--maybe only days.

Landau says that Abourezk presses Aziz. Is there a reason for not allowing the weapons inspectors to come back?

Azziz replies, there is no guarantee it will prevent war. They could be used to create a crisis with the Iraqi government and then be used as a pretext to attack.

Abourezk insisted that some Bush Administration people had serious reservations about making war unilaterally and according to Landau, told Azziz that your acceptance of inspectors might help this coalition of Bush opponents make a stronger case against U.S. military action.

Aziz replied, Bush has said the U.S. will attack with or without the inspectors... So we're doomed if we do, doomed if we don't. If we can't prevent war, why expose ourselves to inspectors who will visit military barracks and then expose facts on how many tanks, anti-aircraft, etc. we have? If you're doomed if you do and doomed if you don't, you better don't.

When Abourezk and Rahall come out of the session, Laudau reports that they seem dejected.

I understand their arguments, Abourezk says, but they just don't get American politics.

Rahall agrees. If the American people knew what our weapons had done to innocent people here. At a bomb shelter--now museum--that took two smart bomb hits in the 1991 Gulf War, we see how our intelligent weapons transformed 408 women and children from flesh into ashes.

The day before we leave Iraq announces it will readmit the UN inspectors without conditions. The Iraqi foreign ministry official tells the delegation that their trip has been successful.

Abourezk smiles and says, Yes, with a little help from Nelson Mandela, the Arab League, and Kofi Annan.

Abourezk is delighted that the Iraqis have agreed to the inspectors. Now he thinks, perhaps erroneously, Congress can show some backbone.

Once home, Abourezk hits the talk show circuit and Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle (who once worked for Abourezk as a Senate legislative aide), angered by Bush's insinuation that the Democrats are traitors, makes an irate denunciation of the President on the Senate floor. Even Al Gore in his San Francisco speech manages to muster a challenge to Bush's unilateralism. Edward Kennedy also decries the President's rush to war.

For his part, Abourezk remains realistic, unsure if the war against Iraq can be stopped.

We'll do what we can," he says between radio and TV talk shows, because we owe it to the civilians who will die in the bombing and to the American soldiers who will die in the ground-fighting. Hell, that's what you have to do if democracy and citizenship are going to mean anything.

Controversial statements in Damascus

In November 16 2007 Frontpage Magazine article[17], expert on Islamic terrorism Robert Spencer questioned some of Abourezk's statements made during a trip to Damascus. According to Spencer, Abourezk told Hizballah mouthpiece Al-Manar TV that Hamas and Hizballah were “resistance fighters.” Abourezk further claimed that the U.S. government designated them terrorist organizations “"at the request of Israel. That name was done at the request of Israel – that the United States calls them terrorist organizations".”

Abourezk then went on to say that after the collapse of the Soviet Union:

the Zionists were looking around for another enemy to have, because to them the Soviet Union was an enemy because they wouldn’t allow Jewish emigration. So they used that as an organizing tool, basically, and when the Soviet Union collapsed, there was no more organizing about the Soviet Union. So they looked around, and they said: Well, the Muslims. Let’s find the Arabs and the Muslims, and make them the boogeyman. And that’s what they did.”

Meeting with Hamas, IPS approval

Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) Carol & Ed Newman Fellow Farrah Hassen had this letter published in the July 1, 2008 Sioux Falls Argus Leader, defending Abourezk's meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Mashal.

The next U.S. President should meet with parties it doesn't agree with - including the leaders of Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah.
Former U.S. Sen. James Abourezk is receiving undue heat for meeting with Hamas political leader Khaled Mashal in Damascus. Peter Harriman's article, "Controversy fails to deter ex-senator," conveniently ignores the larger point of Abourezk's meeting with Mashal. It's not a "question of ethics" but rather a question of logic to meet with representatives who are party to the larger, unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict as opposed to isolating them.
Aside from Jimmy Carter, such a position has been recognized by an eminent group of bipartisan former U.S. officials, including Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee Hamilton and Paul Volcker. It's why Israel has entered into a new truce with Hamas instead of praying that such a party with grass-roots support in the Gaza strip would go away.
If either presidential contenders John McCain or Barack Obama are truly serious about peace in the Middle East, they should follow Abourezk's example and meet with parties the U.S. doesn't agree with in the region. That includes meeting with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah.

World Can't Wait

The 2008 Advisory Board of the Revolutionary Communist Party front World Can't Wait, anti war organization consisted of:[18]

Free Gaza Movement

In 2010, Abourezk served on the advisory board of the Free Gaza Movement.[19]

RootsAction endorser

RootsAction is an independent online force endorsed by Jim Hightower, Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West, Daniel Ellsberg, Glenn Greenwald, Naomi Klein, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Laura Flanders, former U.S. Senator James Abourezk, Coleen Rowley, and many others.[20]