The question of who is Ammar Campa-Najjar is brimming on the minds of many as November midterm elections approach. The 29-year old is the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in San Diego county.
Camp-Najjar is of Palestinian and Mexican ancestry and has been churning the rumor mill with his presence on the national scene.
A possible rising star in the Democratic Party, Campa-Najjar’s family moved from California to Gaza when he was nine. Due to violence in Gaza, Campa-Najjar left his father in Gaza and returned to San Diego three years later just before the September 11, 2001 attacks.
On the campaign trail, Campa-Najjar shares his personal narrative of his mother, a hard-working Catholic struggling to make ends meet. He also sheds light on his faith. He accepted Christianity when he was 15 while working as a janitor at Eastlake Community Church. During his teenage years, Campa-Najjar lived with his great-uncle, a Catholic priest, for some time. Campa-Najjar later worked in the Obama administration, which should mean that he would have had security clearance, including a thorough FBI vetting.
In 1972, Campa-Najjar’s Palestinian grandfather, Abu (Mohammed) Yousef al-Najjar, was one of the Palestinian terrorists who killed 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics and went so far as to castrate some of them. (Such modus operandi is reminiscent of events in recent memory when, in 2016, ISIS supporters brutally massacred and castrated concert goers in Paris’ Bataclan theater.)
Campa-Najjar’s grandfather was also involved in a failed plot to assassinate Israeli prime minister Golda Meir. It’s claimed the grandfather was also head of the intelligence wing of Fatah, Yasser Arafat’s political party, however, there are no open-source findings to confirm the allegation.
By 1973, Campa-Najjar’s grandfather and grandmother were killed by Israeli commandos during a raid in Beirut, Lebanon. That death was witnessed by Campa-Najjar’s father, Yasser al-Najjar, who was then adopted by the King of Morocco and lived in Egypt before he settled in San Diego, California. Yasser al-Najjar returned to Gaza in 1994 when Yasser Arafat created the Palestinian Authority. An NPR article dated 2003 profiles Yasser al-Najjar as a “peace activist” and identified him as the head of the European division of the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Planning and Cooperation.
Campa-Najjar’s father speaks of his own father with reverence and pride. In a 1996 interview in The Washington Post, Yasser al-Najjar said of his father, “We will never measure up to him and people like him.” Campa-Najjar’s father went on to describe co-existence with Israel as worse than war, adding, “It’s like a wife you don’t love, but you have to stay married.”
According to The Washington Post journalist, Barton Gellman, “[Yasser al-Najjar] also refused to accept that killing athletes was more repugnant than the violence of Israeli occupation over the years.”
In a 2003 Chicago Tribune article, Yasser al-Najjar is quoted saying his revenge against his father’s murder “will be to see the creation of a Palestinian state.”
In a Facebook post, Campa-Najjar’s father speaks of his father as a martyr, a Palestinian revolutionary who hunted Golda Meir and dreamed of developing a new generation of Palestinian youth. He describes the shifting identities that Abu Yousef al-Najjar took on during his cover killing operations with admiration:
“In his travels and movements, God’s mercy, he used many passports and different names. A country he enters as an Iraqi and exits as an Algerian, or rides a Jordanian plane and then lands a few hours as a Libyan merchant.”
The question is: Did the Black September terrorist’s son and grandson inherit those same identity-shifting characteristics in order to blend into his environment?
Campa-Najjar embraced his mother’s maiden name “Campa” only recently. In terms of his identity, there are more questions than answers:
Who Ammar Campa-Najjar really is can only be truly answered by Ammar Campa-Najjar himself. An article in The San Diego Union Tribune quotes a statement by Campa-Najjar talking about peace between Israel and the Palestinians. “To achieve peace, Palestinians and Israelis will have to make the same personal choice I’ve had to make: leave the dark past behind so that the future shines brighter through the eyes of our children.”
Responding to an article in Haaretz about his family background, he said regarding his grandfather that he would “never be able to understand or condone” him and said there is “never justification for killing innocent civilians.”
Yet, while his campaign messaging is one of peace, it is laced with unease about the political conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, sounding not that different from his own father:
“The final arrangement will be a peace deal neither side wants, but everyone needs. Ultimately, Israel will have to acknowledge its wrongdoings as the sovereign state and accept the Palestinian’s rights to self-determination, independence and equality. Palestinians will have to renounce violence and fanaticism, acknowledge their Jewish neighbors and accept new realities.”
Elsewhere, for example, in his use of words like “occupation,” Campa-Najjar sounds like many other Muslim-American candidates running for office — hyperfocused on a very narrow narrative when it comes to the Israel-Palestine issue. That narrative is usually one that sees Israel as the only aggressor, rather than also seeing Hamas, a terrorist organization, as the fundamental obstacle to peace in the region.
However, what is most odd about Campa-Najjar is his first post on Medium, dated December 2016, that exhibits an alarming cocktail of moral equivalence, insensitivity and toxic masculinity:
I’ll never forget watching my mother weep when I was 9 years old. My abuelita [grandmother] flew from San Diego all the way to Tel Aviv to visit, only to be turned away. The second Intifada — a brutal war between Israel and the Palestinian people — broke out the hour she landed. Nobody could enter, and nobody could leave. My mom’s source of hope was so close, yet so far.
I vowed to never show weakness or let her see me cry. So I didn’t cry when we said goodbye to our family in San Diego to live in the Palestinian territories for a few years. I didn’t cry when I watched a boy my age, Muhammad al-Durrah, get shot and killed while hiding behind a barrel. I didn’t cry when we had to shelter in place at my Catholic school to hide from the bombing.
I didn’t cry when a military hummer crashed head on into our car, burning my back, fracturing my thigh, breaking my mother’s arm and putting my younger brother in a coma. I didn’t cry the night they cut off the electricity to all of Gaza City, and my mom, stepmom, dad, younger brothers and myself hid in the dark corner of a cold kitchen floor as our neighborhood was bombed. I didn’t cry when we had to leave Baba [dad] behind and finally return to America in August 2001.
I didn’t cry when war clung to our lives like a disease and followed us to America. I didn’t cry when 19 terrorist hijackers took two great symbols of American innovation and industry — the skyscraper and commercial airplane — and used them not to build or create, but to kill and destroy. I didn’t cry that week when the Islamic school I attended was vandalized and declared unsafe to study or pray in.
This year, over 90 Muslims are running for office. Campa-Najjar’s congressional race has naturally sparked curiosity considering Muslim presence in the political sector is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States.
It’s going to be an interesting election come fall, especially in California’s 50th district where Campa-Najjar is running. His opponent is Duncan Hunter, a five-term Republican candidate whose own father held the same seat for 28 years.
Notably, Hunter and his wife are under indictment for campaign finance violations that includes misusing $250,000 in campaign funds that allegedly went toward their children’s private school fees, a luxury trip to Italy and fine dining. It’s also worth noting Hunter blamed his wife for these expenditures, yet both of them pleaded “not guilty” to the charges on August 23, 2018.
It’s up for debate whether this will impact the election in the traditionally red district. So far, Campa-Najjar has ditched his stylish wardrobe for jeans and cowboy boots, and is also leaning on support from bigger Democratic political figures, including Obama, to boost his election profile.
So far Campa-Najjar has beaten Hunter in fundraising. According to June 2018 finding by the Federal Election Commission, Campa-Najjar outpaced Hunter, bringing in over $1.1 million in campaign contributions versus Hunter’s $855,000.
Hunter’s response to the threat to his seat has been to launch hyperbolic and blatantly false ad campaigns that dangerously flirt with smearing Campa-Najjar as a terrorist.
The accurate conclusion here isn’t that he’s a terrorist, it’s that Campa-Najjar’s grandfather was a terrorist and that his father (who admired him) was sponsored by the King of Morocco and worked (and might still work) for the Palestinian Authority. Yet, it is a conclusion that invites far more questions and showcases a bigger puzzle with many missing pieces.
The burden to find these “missing puzzle pieces” will ultimately fall on San Diego’s voters, whom in November, will be forced to make a choice between these two less-than-desirable candidates.
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