Michigan's Top Dems Say They Support Israel. They've Courted a Hamas-Loving, Anti-Israel Activist for Years.

(Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
November 7, 2023

Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer and attorney general Dana Nessel have claimed to support Israel in the wake of last month's Hamas attack. But the Democrats have spent years courting an Arab-American political group whose leader has called for violence against Israel and praised Islamic militants.

Whitmer praised the Arab American Political Action Committee during a speech at the group's annual banquet in November 2022. And Nessel credited the organization at its 2019 gala for helping her win her election a year earlier. They touted the organization even though its leader, Osama Siblani, has a long history of anti-Israel and pro-terrorist remarks.

Siblani, the publisher of the Arab American News, drew national attention in May 2022 when he urged Arabs to "fight within [their] means" against Israel, whether it be with "stones," "guns," or "their hands." He has called Hamas and Hezbollah "freedom fighters" and in 2019 cheered that Hezbollah "delivered on its threat" to bomb Israel.

The Democrats' coziness with Siblani and the Arab American Political Action Committee could prove a political liability, especially for Whitmer, whom many Democrats believe to be a future presidential contender. Whitmer and Nessel have tried to walk a political tightrope in the wake of Hamas's terrorist attack on Israel. Whitmer faced calls to resign after failing to mention Israel by name in her official response to Hamas’s invasion but later said she fully supports Israel. Nessel called on Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) to retract her statement that "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free," a slogan widely seen as a call for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Whitmer and Nessel have relied heavily on Siblani and the Arab American Political Action Committee to mobilize voters in Michigan, home to one of the largest Arab and Muslim populations in the country. Nessel has credited Siblani and the Arab American Political Action Committee for helping her win office in 2018. "Were it not for the support of AAPAC and of this community in particular, I would not be attorney general of the state of Michigan," she said at the group's banquet in November 2019.

Whitmer has sought to remain in the committee's good graces. She met with Siblani at the Arab American News offices in April 2022 after Arab-American activists criticized her for visiting Israel. Siblani claimed Whitmer accepted his invitation to visit Lebanon to make amends for her Israel trip.

Whitmer and Nessel have rubbed shoulders with other terrorist sympathizers at Arab American Political Action Committee events.

Whitmer was photographed at last year's banquet with Siblani and Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi, the head of the Islamic House of Wisdom. Elahi allegedly maintains ties to the Iranian government, has pushed pro-Tehran views, and publicly mourned the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

Nessel's speech at the 2019 banquet was followed by remarks from Amer Zahr, a former Bernie Sanders surrogate who has praised terrorist groups on numerous occasions.

Zahr urged the audience to "stand up against the racist Israeli state" and railed against a federal bill that "outrageously funds Israel's military and denounces the [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] movement." Zahr, who praised Nessel during his remarks, has repeatedly defended Islamic terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. At a rally in 2017 organized by Siblani, Zahr stated that "whether it's called Hamas, whether it's called Hezbollah, we stand with everybody who stands against the Israeli occupation." In 2021, he urged activists who are "condemning anti-Semitism and condemning terrorism" to "stop it!"

Whitmer and Nessel did not respond to requests for comment.