(Tribune News Service) - An East County congressional candidate is calling for a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis after a Tel Aviv newspaper published a story about his grandfather's ties to a terrorist group.
Ammar Campa-Najjar, 28, of Jamul, says he never met his grandfather, Muhammad Yusuf al-Najjar, who died in 1973.
"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" Ammar Campa-Najjar, a Democrat, said in a statement.
He was responding to an article published in I under the headline, "Grandson of Munich Massacre Terrorist Is Running for Congress -- Sounding a Peaceful Tone on Israel".
"For the sake of the victims, I hoped this tragedy wouldn't be politicized. But if these old wounds must be re-opened, then I pray God gives purpose to their unspeakable pain. I pray that purpose is to see peace prioritized by my generation of Palestinians, Israelis and the whole of humanity," Campa-Najjar said in his statement.
He's running for the 50th Congressional District in eastern San Diego County and Temecula. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, currently holds the seat.
Campa-Najjar's paternal grandfather was Muhammad Yusuf al-Najjar, head of the intelligence wing of Fatah, the political party founded by Palestinian political leader Yasser Arafat. Some Fatah members formed the Black September organization, a terrorist group that was responsible for a series of attacks against Israelis, including the 1972 killing of 11 athletes and coaches at the Munich Olympics.
Israel launched a series of responses to the Munich attack, including a 1973 commando raid in Beirut, Lebanon, where Yusuf al-Najjar and his wife were both killed.
Yusuf al-Najjar's orphaned son, Yasser Najjar, moved to Egypt and later immigrated to eastern San Diego County where he met his wife, Abigail. The couple had Campa-Najjar in 1989, about 16 years after his biological grandfather was killed.
"As many know, I am of Mexican and Palestinian descent. And like many American families, my heritage bears a heartbreaking history. Palestinians and Israelis have lost too much over the years of bloodshed, that's why I am committed to helping broker a lasting peace in my lifetime," Najjar-Campa said in the statement.
Yasser al-Najjar later moved from California to Gaza, and Campa also lived there from ages nine to 12 before returning to San Diego just before the September 11, 2001, attacks.
"I was fleeing war and then unfortunately war followed us. Unfortunately there has always been that cloud of violence," Campa-Najjar said by phone on Tuesday. "But that's America, it's a comeback story, it's people fleeing a tragic past and hoping for a successful future."
He condemned his paternal grandfather's actions and motivations to Haaretz
and said he would "never be able to understand or condone" him and said that there is "never justification for killing innocent civilians."
He told the Union-Tribune
that his paternal grandfather's history was never a part of his life, but the relative was mentioned when Campa-Najjar lived in Gaza.
While his mother is Catholic and his father Muslim, and he spent time as a teenager living with a great-uncle who is a Catholic priest, Campa-Najjar is Protestant. He said his faith began to develop when working his first job as a janitor and a groundskeeper at Eastlake Community Church -- the closest place to his house where he could find work as a 15-year-old. Later, he was an assistant to the pastor and worked in the youth ministry.
"We could write a whole darn piece on my faith, but I don't think you'd find it interesting," he said. "But for me, it's a part of me running, and my Christian faith informs a lot of what I do, this 'Caring for the least of these' has a lot to do with my campaign," Campa-Najjar said, quoting Matthew's Gospel.
Two rabbis defended Campa-Najjar in the Haaretz
article. Rabbi Nadav Caine from the Ner Tamid Synagogue in Poway said the candidate told him about his grandfather, and said that the controversy pushed him to create peace, and spoke about how Israel's security and is important, as are Palestinian human rights.
"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," Campa-Najjar said in his statement.
His campaign has largely focused on domestic policy, including access to health care, income inequality and the economy.
Hunter is running for re-election, and businessman Shamus Sayed, El Cajon Mayor William Wells and sheriff's Deputy Andrew Zelt are running as Republicans. Besides Campa-Najjar, there is one major Democratic candidate, Josh Butner, a member of the Jamul-Dulzura Union School Board and a retired Navy SEAL.(c)2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.