After a 4 1/2-year struggle, a former Utahn has convinced the federal government for the first time to recognize Arab Americans as minorities.
Omar Kader, a former Brigham Young University professor who now owns a Washington-based security and management consulting firm named Pal-Tech, won that recognition from the U.S. Small Business Administration.That puts his business on more competitive footing in seeking government contracts. Laws require each federal agency to set aside a percentage of contracts exclusively for companies owned by minorities, and Kader now qualifies to bid for them.
"But I had to prove discrimination on a case-by-case basis, provide detailed documentation and a lot of supporting material. It took a long time. It was difficult because I was the first Palestinian American to apply," said Kader, who was born in Utah to Palestinian Arab parents.
He outlined some of the discrimination he said he has suffered.
For example, he said he won a contract from a large national firm to organize anti-terrorism seminars for five years. "But they tried to break the contract before the first," Kader said. "I was told the head of the company was Jewish, and he didn't want any Arabs on the payroll."
He said he was once awarded a government contract to install security systems at a large facility, "but I couldn't implement it because the man in charge refused to sit in the same room with an Arab. I had to use a consultant to figure out what he wanted. He would only deal with a subcontractor."
Kader said another contracting officer for a large federal agency also wrote him saying his agency did not want to deal with any Palestinian.
"I considered suing. But I decided to seek minority status instead in the minority set-aside program by proving discrimination," Kader said.
For three years, the process moved slowly with the government seemingly requesting an endless stream of more documents. Feeling he was given the runaround, Kader sought help from a member of Congress from Utah - but said he declined saying he didn't want to be seen as an ally of a Palestinian.
Then he asked Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "He didn't hesitate at all. His office asked that I be treated properly; that if I qualified for the program, I be given what I deserve; and if I didn't qualify, that I be told so. They monitored my treatment." And Kader was finally accepted as a minority.
But that hasn't ended discrimination, he said.
"Just yesterday, a federal contracting officer told me he was nervous about being seen doing business with an Arab and asked if I would consider changing my name," Kader said. "Maybe I should consider `Sven.' "
He added, "I think a lot of people in the government are scared of the pro-Israel lobby and just don't want to be seen working with Arabs."
Kader said, "Arabs are now recognized as a minority. Arab Americans have not been recognized as a minority by the federal government in contracting, and not even in the Census."
He said a few Arabs from Yemen and Iraq had managed to participate in the minority business program before him, though. "But they qualified as refugees, not as minorities."