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American Task Force on Palestine’s Inaugural Gala
Introduction of Jesse Aweida by Seantor Carl Levin

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Rafi, thank you very much for the very kind words.  Thank you Governor Sununu for your very warm reference to me and my presence tonight.  To my good friend Senator Sununu, I treasure our friendship and am very jealous that you are able to present your father with an award.  I only wish my father was still around so that I could in some way do what you are still able to do.  I know you do it with such fondness for your father. 

You know, Senator Sununu and his father and I have very different views on whether or not New Hampshire should continue to play a dominant role in the election of the President.  But at least we can agree on the importance of the American Task Force on Palestine.

I know I drive the people of New Hampshire absolutely crazy with my arguments that no one state should have that dominant role, and I’m even amazed that Senator Sununu would want to be on the same program with me tonight and be seen in the same room, but I treasure that friendship.

The ATFP is filling a much-needed role in Washington by promoting awareness of the importance of Palestinian statehood to American security.  It is keeping the hope for two states, Israel and Palestine, living next to each other in peace and security vibrantly before us and for not allowing us as Americans to give up hope and to be in a state of despair because we are not yet there in the Middle East.  We will get there and this organization will help us to get there. 

I am pleased to join you tonight in honoring the contributions of Palestinian Americans to our beloved country.   It is a personal pleasure to present your award to my college classmate, Jesse Aweida.  It seems like only yesterday that Jesse, his wonderful wife Maria and I attended Swarthmore College together.  It actually now is slightly more than 50 years.  At my age, one’s memory has been known to play tricks, but it is just like yesterday that Jesse and Maria and I and our colleagues were at that wonderful campus near Philadelphia.

Jesse is an extraordinary person.  He is kind. He is intelligent. He is extraordinarily entrepreneurial.  In fact, everyone in our class at Swarthmore remembers when Jesse started a business selling sandwiches door-to-door in our dormitories.  On behalf of a generation of hungry students at Swarthmore, thank you, Jesse! 

Our class also remembers the great love that grew between Jesse and Maria.  Maria is the light of Jesse’s life, and today nothing makes them happier than when all 22 members of their family – including their children, their children’s spouses and their grandchildren – are together, including when they all travel together. Think about 22 members in one family traveling together.  We talk a lot about family values a lot in political campaigns.  They live family values the way they stay together, live together, work together, and play together.

Jesse’s sandwich business in college turned out to be a sign of the great things to come.  After graduating, he went to work for IBM and then went on to found a company where he would make his mark – Storage Technology Corporation in Boulder, Colorado.  Jesse built that business from scratch into a billion dollar company in 12 years.  Through that success and through his venture capital investments at Aweida Venture Partners, he personally sparked a new industry in the Boulder area, turning Boulder into a hub of data storage companies and innovation.  Tonight, he’s being honored in part for his tremendous entrepreneurial spirit.

That spirit is one of many strong ties between the American and Palestinian peoples.  Last March, I traveled to Ramallah with a delegation from Michigan.  We visited an information technology incubator that provides seed money for software and computer industry companies, and we met with businessmen from the agricultural industry also in Gaza. 

Over and over again on that trip we saw the same thing – a reservoir of talent and economic potential that is being bottled-up by the political situation there.  Indeed, that great entrepreneurial spirit of the Palestinian people is evident wherever you travel in the Middle East.  There are a thousand humanitarian reasons to hope that the Middle East peace process gets back on track.  One surely is to unleash that entrepreneurial spirit and  that economic growth.

While governments have not yet found a solution, many private citizens do what they can.  And so we also honor Jesse Aweida tonight for his philanthropy.  For instance, Jesse’s work through Americans for Near East Refugee Aid is helping the next generation of Palestinian entrepreneurs by building Information Technology Centers of Excellence at five Palestinian universities that teach young people critical software, networking, and other computer skills. 

Let me close with one story from our Swarthmore college reunion a few months ago that I hope will put Jesse’s philanthropy in some perspective.  While we were there, Jesse met a current student who was studying Arabic.  He marveled at the progress of his old school and spoke with the young woman in Arabic for about 15 minutes.  The President of Swarthmore happened by and observed that beautiful moment across the generations and said: “I’m gonna hit Jesse up for a new Arabic Studies Center!”  What a long way he has come from selling sandwiches in dormitories!

I am truly proud to present Jesse Aweida with the first American Task Force on Palestine’s Award for Excellence in Commerce and Industry.

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