Senator Pays Tribute to Palestinian-American Aide Joining Biden Team in Historic First

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Sen. Dick Durbin speaking during a Senate committee hearing in Washington, January 19, 2021.
Sen. Dick Durbin speaking during a Senate committee hearing in Washington, January 19, 2021. Credit: POOL/REUTERS

WASHINGTON – Sen. Dick Durbin on Tuesday paid tribute to Reema Dodin, his longtime Palestinian-American aide who is joining the Biden administration as deputy director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs.

“This daughter of immigrants will make history as the highest ranking Palestinian-American woman ever to work in the executive branch,” Durbin said in a tribute delivered from the Senate floor.

“For years, my person on the Senate floor has been this woman. This amazing woman. I am grateful for her service to the Senate, her service to the people of Illinois and to our nation,” the Democratic senator said. “I know that she’ll be a tremendous asset to President Biden, and to the nation. In these divided times it’s rare to find a public servant like Reema, whose excellence and integrity is so widely admired on both sides of the aisle. No one understands better than Reema how this Senate works,” Durbin added. 

“Reema acquired her political and diplomatic acumen through hard work and partly unseen through genetics. Her grandfather served as Social Affairs Minister for the Kingdom of Jordan under King Hussein, and was involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in the 1970s. As I mentioned, Reema, like so many Americans including myself, is a child of immigrants. Her parents both came to the United States as college students from Hebron, in the occupied West Bank,” he said.

“During the most recent siege of the Capitol, Reema worried for the safety of senators and their staff, police officers and troops who were defending this building. But she also worried about the priceless paintings, statues and other historical treasures that have been passed down from one generation to the next as part of our national legacy,” he noted.

“In her personal inscription to her book on the Senate, Reema thanked me for taking a chance on folks with only dreams and no connections. Well Reema, tomorrow when you join the staff of the president of United States, Joe Biden, you’ll have the best connections in Washington. And I know that you will use whatever opportunity presents itself in this new assignment to bridge the gaps in America, and bring together the people of this country in a better, more caring nation,” Durbin said.

Biden’s initial appointment of Dodin was celebrated by Democrats who lauded his commitment to diversity, though conservative media resurfaced statements she made while a college student 18 years ago calling Palestinian suicide bombers “the last resort of a desperate people.” Dodin had also participated in pro-divestment protests and criticized portrayals of Palestinians in the media. 

In response to the attacks on Dodin, an official from the Biden-Harris transition team told Haaretz: “Reema is the first to tell you she has grown from her youth in her approach to pushing for change,” and that she has “harnessed her activism into action, becoming a well-respected and trusted leader in the U.S. Senate. Her years of Senate experience and perspective will help President-elect Biden and Vice President Harris respond to our nation’s most urgent challenges.”

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