California’s governor publishes open letter of support to Arab and Muslim Americans

CHICAGO: At a time when Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment are increasing in the wake of Israel’s war in Gaza, one American governor has felt compelled to tell Arabs and Muslims in America how much they are appreciated.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued a four-page letter in which he says California is “a better place” because of the presence of Arabs and Muslims; offers blessing for Ramadan to the Muslim community; and vows to continue to fight what he calls anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate crimes that are “becoming more common.”

Newsom, a Democrat, also said that he feels the anguish of the loss of life in Gaza and will continue to organize efforts to provide aid to civilians in the region, including utilizing the California National Guard to assist in delivering aid to the besieged Palestinian territory.

Newsom said: “California is a better place because of you — our Muslim, Palestinian American, and Arab American neighbors and friends who contribute so much to our state’s sense of faith and belonging.

“From countless achievements in literature, civil rights, arts, entertainment, government, business, medicine, and science, to the daily contributions to your communities, you form an essential part of California’s spirit.

“And now, as many of you observe the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, we can all extend our heartfelt wishes and be reminded of the value of introspection and renewal. I am grateful and proud that each of you call the Golden State home.”

Newsom said his administration was “fighting back” against Islamophobia and hate crimes, while “uplifting Muslim and Arab American heritage and culture.”

He added he was “pained” by the grief caused by the suffering in Gaza, where more than 31,000 Palestinians have been killed, and dozens of hospitals, schools, government buildings, businesses and civilian homes destroyed in the five months since the “Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel.”

He added in his letter, which was published on the state’s government website this week: “That’s why it pains me so deeply to see the ways your communities are suffering, bearing the weight of lost family and friends in Gaza while facing a rise in discrimination and hate here at home.

“As I’ve met with leaders from your communities in recent months, I’ve heard stories of unimaginable loss and widespread fear.”

Newsom said he has had personal contact with people and friends who have lost family in Gaza.

He said: “Here in California, one leader in the Palestinian American community told me of his work counseling community members who have lost family members — but now, after losing 23 of his family members, he is left searching for his own counselor. Others have shared similar devastation with me.

“I have spoken publicly about a close friend of mine who has lost nine of her family members. I’ve listened to stories of entire families in Gaza killed and multiple generations wiped out. These losses are staggering. And now burgeoning disease and starvation threaten to deepen the devastation, especially among children. This is unacceptable.”

Citing the hate-driven actions against several Palestinians in America, Newsom said these were not exceptions but a growing trend.

He wrote: “These are not isolated incidents. Hateful acts targeting those who are or are perceived to be Muslim or Arab American are becoming more common. In California, reported anti-Muslim bias events rose 44.4 percent from 2021 to 2022.

“Reports also indicate a spike in reported anti-Muslim and anti-Arab incidents following the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel — the largest documented surge of its kind since late 2015 and early 2016, amidst calls for a Muslim ban. And now, many Muslim and Arab American communities report a level of fear comparable to the months following 9/11.”

Newsom condemned the killings taking place in Gaza, although he avoided casting blame on Israel’s government and urged the revival of peace talks to guarantee the autonomy of both Palestinians and Israelis.

He said: “Our efforts must continue amidst the current conflict in the Middle East. On top of the pain of discrimination and fear of violence, I have also heard from Muslim, Arab American, and Palestinian American leaders that many fear speaking out against the deaths of civilians in Gaza. Know that I will always defend your right to take part in the California tradition of peaceful protest — to publicly express your opposition to any war or government decision you oppose, including the war in Gaza.

“So let me be clear — I condemn the ongoing and horrific loss of innocent civilian life in Gaza. I support President Biden’s call for an immediate ceasefire as part of a deal to secure desperately needed relief for Gazan civilians and the release of hostages. I also unequivocally denounce Hamas’ terrorist attack against Israel. It is time to work in earnest toward an enduring peace that will furnish the lasting security, autonomy, and freedom that the Palestinians and the Israeli people both deserve.”

His administration last November “shipped a field hospital and vital medical supplies to support humanitarian relief for civilians in Gaza.”

He said he has directed state grants to bolster “safety and security” for Arabs, Muslims and Jews at college campuses, schools, mosques, churches and synagogues.

He wrote: “To every Muslim, Palestinian American, and Arab American who calls California home: please know that you belong here.”

Newsom was elected California’s 40th governor in 2019. He previously served as the 49th lieutenant governor of California from 2011 to 2019, and the 42nd mayor of the city of San Francisco from 2004 to 2011.

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