James Abourezk

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James Abourezk
James Abourezk.jpg
United States Senator
from South Dakota
In office
January 3, 1973 – January 3, 1979
Preceded by Karl E. Mundt
Succeeded by Larry Pressler
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Dakota's 2nd district
In office
January 3, 1971 – January 3, 1973
Preceded by E. Y. Berry
Succeeded by James Abdnor
Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs
In office
January 3, 1977 – January 3, 1979
Preceded by None
Joseph C. O'Mahoney in 1947 (Senate Committee on Indian Affairs)
Succeeded by John Melcher
Personal details
Born James George Abourezk
(1931-02-24) February 24, 1931 (age 84)
Wood, South Dakota
Political party Democratic
Alma mater South Dakota School of Mines
University of South Dakota School of Law
Profession Attorney
Religion Greek Orthodox

James George Abourezk (born February 24, 1931) is a former Democratic United States Representative and United States Senator, and was the first Greek Orthodox Christian of Lebanese-Antiochite descent to serve in the United States Senate, where he was generally viewed as critical of US foreign policy in the Middle-East and North Africa (MENA) area—notably regarding Palestine and Israel.

He represented South Dakota in the U.S. Senate from 1973 until 1979.

Early life and education[edit]

Abourezk was born in Wood, South Dakota, the son of Lena (née Mickel), a homemaker, and Charles Abourezk, an owner of two general stores.[1] His parents were Christians who had emigrated from the Lebanese village of Kfeir. He grew up near Wood and lived in South Dakota most of his life.

Between 1948 and 1952, Abourezk served in the United States Navy during the Korean War. After his military service, he received a degree in civil engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City in 1961 and a law degree from University of South Dakota School of Law in Vermillion in 1966. He passed the bar, and began a legal practice in Rapid City.

Political career[edit]

Abourezk was elected as a Democrat to the House of Representatives, and served from 1971 to 1973. He then was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until 1979.

As a senator, he criticized the Office of Public Safety (OPS), a U.S. agency linked to the USAID and the CIA that provided training to foreign police forces. He also was instrumental in the creation of both the American Indian Policy Review Commission and the Select Committee on Indian Affairs. He chaired the Policy Review Commission the entire time it existed, and then took the gavel as chair of the Indian Affairs Committee from its creation in 1977 to 1979, when he retired. Abourezk was an early supporter of a National initiative and with fellow Senator Mark O. Hatfield (R-OR) introduced an amendment allowing more direct democracy. However, this initiative failed.

In 1974, TIME magazine named Senator Abourezk one of the 200 Faces for the Future.[2]

In 1978, Abourezk chose not to run for re-election and was succeeded by Republican Larry Pressler, with whom he has had a long-running feud that has lasted until the present day.[3]


Following his retirement in 1980, Abourezk founded the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a grassroots civil rights organization. In 1989, he wrote Advise and Dissent: Memoirs of South Dakota and the U.S. Senate (ISBN 1-55652-066-2) and he is the co-author—along with Hyman Bookbinder of Through Different Eyes: Two Leading Americans — a Jew and an Arab — Debate U. S. Policy in the Middle East (ISBN 0917561392)

Abourezk now works as a lawyer and writer in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Huffington Post writer James Zogby praised Abourezk as a "bold and coureagous former Senator" for protesting to the FBI after the ABSCAM operation and calling all Arab-Americans to "reclaim the right to defend and define their heritage."[4]

Criticism of U.S. support for Israel[edit]

In a 2006 CounterPunch interview, Abourezk argued that America's support of Israel endures because "the Congress is pretty much reliant on money from radical Zionists".[5]


External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
E. Y. Berry
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Dakota's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
James Abdnor
United States Senate
Preceded by
Karl E. Mundt
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from South Dakota
Served alongside: George McGovern
Succeeded by
Larry Pressler
Political offices
Preceded by
Committee created
Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs
Succeeded by
John Melcher
Party political offices
Preceded by
Donn H. Wright
Democratic nominee for United States Senator from South Dakota
(class 2)

Succeeded by
Don Barnett