Abdelnasser Rashid, the first Palestinian American member of the Illinois legislature, represents the 21st District, an area encompassing parts of the Southwest Side and nearby suburbs. But these days, he’s thinking a lot about his family’s homeland. Rashid, who still has relatives and friends in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, has called for an immediate cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas that erupted after the October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel. But most notably, he was among a group of local Arab leaders who refused to meet with White House aides in March, citing President Joe Biden’s support for Israel. And while critics have pointed out that foreign policy isn’t decided in Springfield, the war isn’t far from the minds of his constituents, either: His district contains the nation’s largest concentration of Palestinians.

Tell me about your family and friends in the Palestinian territories.

My immediate family, including siblings, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, are in the West Bank. But we have extended relatives in Gaza. I lived for six years in Palestine, in Turmus Ayya, a village in the West Bank near Ramallah. My wife and our three kids went there for a few weeks last summer, and while we were there, three to four hundred Israeli settlers marched into the village in broad daylight, torched an entire neighborhood, burned cars, burned dozens of homes, shot 12 people, and killed a young man. The Israeli military only intervened when they feared that the settlers would be hurt. It has been devastating seeing the lack of accountability for the war crimes and the genocide that’s unfolded in Gaza. For the world to see tens of thousands of children and women being killed, and then with mothers grieving over their dead children, with children hugging their mothers and fathers with limbs thrown around with heads detached — it sounds gruesome, but that’s exactly what it is. Our political establishment has greenlit the type of barbarity that we’re all going to look at in horror when the dust settles. It’s disheartening that Democratic leadership has enabled and supported it.

How do you think Israel, the United States, and the Palestinians should have responded to the October 7 attack by Hamas?

It is never acceptable to attack civilians, whether it is Israel or a Palestinian group conducting attacks on civilians. Israel had killed over 5,000 people in Gaza between 2008 and 2023, before October 7. There were [more than] 300 Palestinians in the West Bank in 2023 alone killed by the Israeli military and by settlers, including young men in my village. So we should respond to this violence by understanding the root causes and choosing a path that centers human rights, equality, and a real desire for peace, breaking down a system that is based on one group being superior to another, breaking down essentially the apartheid reality that has defined Israeli and Palestinian life for decades, and moving in the direction of real equality and peace and security.

How has Israel-Hamas war changed how you approach local and state issues?

It’s added a much more intense layer of empathy for people who are struggling. And it’s created a drive to level the playing field, certainly on Israel and Palestine, but that extends to using my power and influence and organizing to do the same on other issues as well. Also, I support humanitarian and economic aid to countries that need it. But the idea that, over the course of decades, we’d spend hundreds of billions of dollars in military assistance to Israel when people here are struggling to find housing, when people are struggling to have affordable health care, when our education system needs additional resources, I think that’s counterintuitive.

“There needs to be a humanitarian Marshall Plan to assist those who are literally dying of starvation and famine and disease and injury. How President Biden responds is going to ultimately decide how people will choose to vote.”

Why did you refuse to meet with White House aides in March?

I visited the White House in October. I met with leadership, senior leaders. I stayed in touch with folks from the White House and the State Department regularly. What we saw happen was our concerns were being completely ignored for months. The substance of what we were asking for was being rejected, and instead we’d get shallow responses: “Thank you for sharing your feedback” or “We will convey your message.” Then they met with Arab leaders in Michigan, and soon after that meeting, the Biden administration vetoed the U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire. A few weeks after that, they came to us in Chicago, including me directly, saying, “We want to meet with you.” We said, “No, you’ve had opportunities to meet with us directly, you’ve continued to ignore our concerns, you’ve continued to provide Israel arms, you’ve continued to veto cease-fire resolutions. It’s clear you are using this as a PR tool.”

How will you feel if Biden loses because of this issue, including lack of support from Arab American leaders? Do you think that sacrifice would be worth it if Donald Trump is elected?

President Biden, like every other candidate, needs to earn the support of voters. For people who are deeply concerned about human rights, about being dragged into a regional war where American troops could be sent to be killed, about being implicated in genocide, President Biden has a responsibility to act in a way that earns support.

Do you think Biden can win back support from people who oppose his actions in Gaza?

It really depends on how seriously he takes the concerns that have been raised and transforms United States policy with regard to Israel and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, so that the U.S. is no longer funding war crimes or is an active partner in the Israeli system of apartheid. There needs to be a humanitarian Marshall Plan to assist those who right now are literally dying of starvation and famine and disease and injury. How President Biden responds is going to ultimately decide how people will choose to vote.

Will you vote for Biden?

I’ll be voting for Democrats like I always do.


The Conflict’s Local Math

Jews in Illinois
Muslims in Illinois
Palestinians in Cook County (the most of any county in the nation)
Documented religion-motivated hate crimes in Chicago in 2023
Percentage increase over 2022
Documented anti-Muslim hate crimes in Chicago in 2023
Percentage of 2024 Democratic presidential primary voters in Cook County who wrote in “Gaza” as a protest, left their ballots blank, or wrote in something else
Illinois members of Congress who voted against $26 billion in aid for Israel and humanitarian relief for Gaza
Illinois members of Congress who voted for it