Did Barack Obama Endorse the Grandson of a Terrorist for U.S. Congress?

California U.S. congressional candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar is the grandson of a Palestinian terrorist who died 16 years before he was born.

  • Published 23 April 2019
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Claim

Former U.S. President Barack Obama endorsed the grandson of a terrorist for federal office.

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Origin

April 2019 saw the recirculation on Twitter and Facebook of a months-old claim to the effect that former U.S. President Barack Obama had endorsed a California congressional candidate who is the grandson of a terrorist:

This partisan social media campaign linking Obama to California Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar (who ultimately lost his bid to unseat the Republican incumbent) in the 2018 midterm election first went viral in early October 2018:

As to the factuality of the claims, it is true that Obama announced his endorsement of Campa-Najjar’s candidacy (among others) on 1 August 2018. Obama would have been familiar with Campa-Najjar’s background and qualifications, the latter having served in more than one position in his administration. Campa-Najjar was also endorsed by the California Democratic Party.

It is also true that Campa-Najjar’s paternal grandfather, Muhammad Yusuf al-Najjar (also known as Abu Yusuf) was a member of the Palestinian terrorist organization Black September and, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “one of the architects” of a terror attack in which 11 Israeli athletes were murdered at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. In retribution, Israeli commandos later killed al-Najjar and his wife. Campa-Najjar’s father, Yasser Najjar, is a former Palestinian Authority official.

Haaretz first spotlighted Campa-Najjar’s family history in February 2018, although in doing so they also enumerated the ways Campa-Najjar’s life path had diverged from those of his forebears. He never knew his terrorist grandfather, who died 16 years before Campa-Najjar was born. Though his Palestinian father is Muslim and his Mexican-American mother is Catholic, Campa-Najjar, a 30-year-old American citizen born in San Diego County, has been a Christian since he joined a non-denominational Protestant church as a teenager.

“I’m proud to be an American of diverse background, like so many Americans who have their origins in different parts of the world,” he told Haaretz. He also said that “as an American citizen living in the 21st century, I will never be able to understand or condone the actions and motivations of my grandfather”:

Campa-Najjar doesn’t defend the actions of his grandfather, calling them “horrific. Innocent civilians were murdered. There is never justification for killing innocent civilians.” His thinking is also different from that of his father, whom, according to a 1996 Washington Post article, was proud of Yusuf al-Najjar and refused “to accept that killing athletes was more repugnant than the violence of Israeli occupation over the years.”

According to Campa-Najjar, “I’m against ‘comparisonism’ – competing who suffered more. Too many people have been killed. What my grandfather did was inexcusable. The goal is for our generation to be better than our predecessors, and find a way to end this conflict.”

Despite Campa-Najjar’s unqualified renunciation of his grandfather’s actions and of terrorist violence in general, partisan sources in the United States picked up and amplified the Haaretz report. By late September 2018, Campa-Najjar’s Republican opponent in the race for U.S. Congress, Rep. Duncan Hunter, was publicly citing Campa-Najjar’s family history as a reason to consider him a “national security risk,” despite the latter’s having passed two FBI background checks during his time in the Obama administration.

A TV campaign ad released by Hunter’s campaign falsely accused Campa-Najjar of “hiding his family’s ties to terrorism” and “working to infiltrate Congress”:

The torrent of Facebook and Twitter posts purporting to call out Obama for endorsing “the grandson of a terrorist” coincided with Hunter’s media attacks. There was scarcely a mention of that endorsement, which came in August, until after Hunter launched the attacks in late September and early October. Despite outward appearances, the social media campaign seemed less an effort to tar Obama by linking him to Campa-Najjar than a means to reinforce the idea that the candidate’s family history made him a security threat. 

Perhaps bolstered by that social media campaign, Hunter’s media attacks achieved the desired effect. Hunter won re-election in November 2018 despite having been indicted by a federal grand jury for campaign-finance fraud and stripped of all his House committee assignments.

The resurgence of the social media campaign in April 2019 wasn’t a random occurrence. Earlier in the year, Campa-Najjar announced his intention to run against Hunter again in the 2020 election. Hunter renewed his attacks on Campa-Najjar, calling him a “grave threat to our national security if ever elected.” Recycled memes saying Obama had endorsed the grandson of a terrorist (though the former hadn’t yet announced any 2020 endorsements at all) followed like clockwork.