The head of the group that organized and paid for Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s trip to Syria says he personally financed the trip in which the Hawaii Democrat met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, denied he had links to Assad or a controversial Syrian political party, and rejected news reports that said his group was anti-Semitic.
In an interview with The Atlantic, Bassam Khawam, a former executive director and current board member of the Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services (AACCESS-Ohio), said this wasn’t the first trip his Cleveland-based organization has coordinated for U.S. lawmakers to the Middle East. Founded in 1991 to serve the Arab American community in Ohio, AACCESS has organized three trips to the region for Dennis Kucinich, the former Democratic congressman from Ohio, between 2006 and 2011; Khawam said the group did the same for Gabbard, a two-term Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii, because of her expressed interest in the region.
“Congresswoman Gabbard had a position on what’s taking place in Syria, and about regime change, and these sort of things,” Khawam, a Lebanese health-care consultant, told me in an interview. “So we thought … that would be most likely very helpful for her to see things on the ground similar to what we did with Congressman Kucinich.”