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Father K

Thursday, October 12, 2017 - 10:59 PM

Today, while the divisions between different groups in this country feel more and more insurmountable, we zero in on a particular neighborhood to see if one man can draw people together in a potentially history-making election. 

Khader El-Yateem is a Palestinian American running for office in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, one of the most divided, and most conservative neighborhoods in New York City. To win, he'll need to convince a wildly diverse population that he can speak for all of them, and he'll need to pull one particular group of people, Arab American Muslims, out of the shadows and into the political process. And to make things just a bit more interesting, El-Yateem is a Lutheran minister.

This story was reported and produced by Simon Adler, with help from Bethel Habte, Annie McEwen, and Sarah Qari.

 Support Radiolab today at


Matt Apuzzo, Reverend Khader El-Yateem, Kayla Santosuosso and Linda Sarsour


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Comments [25]


There is only so much naiveté a girl can handle ! I would say this segment should have been entitled "White Guy From Wisconsin Goes To Ungentrified Brooklyn And Lives To Tell About It." I found it interesting to hear your slamming the white candidate for using 'our neighbors' tagline but not the Middle Eastern candidate for doing the exact same thing with his 'my community' shtick. Please Radiolab don't become a parody of your own selves because you are really breaking this girl's heart

Oct. 16 2017 05:01 PM
Daniel T. A. from California/Michigan

Can we get some science again?

We've recently used gravitational waves to detect two stars colliding over the past 11 billion years and used the gravitational reading to locate the galaxy with visual telescopes!

Politics isn't fun to listen to anymore...

Oct. 16 2017 03:27 PM

Radiolab quality is like the dexter tv series.. This season, and especially this episode.. is very disappointing. Someone needs to be fired. How can i donate now, especially if you are spending so much on this crap. Islam ironically is a right wing ideology just like the conservatives who vote against them. Simple: right wing is always fighting right wing, each claiming superiority over the others. But when it comes to core ideology: homosexuality, abortions, the existence of green house gasses, god in schools and public spaces, etc... there is much in common. So who cares. I learned nothing from this episode.

Oct. 16 2017 10:19 AM

Not enough "White" people could vote for an Arab? Have you ever heard of John Sununu, or he's clearly not ethnic enough for your preferred narrative.

Oct. 16 2017 10:01 AM
Mike from Brooklyn from Brooklyn

Every time you create a podcast based on Race your journalistic integrity crashes through the floor.

Oct. 16 2017 09:15 AM
Lilian from London, UK

Guys, you're forgetting ONE THING. Father K is not being 'contradictory'. What every intelligent empathetic person would realise is that, issues that matter the most to one community, would apply to all community, regardless of gender, race, religion or 'identity politics'. Education standards, housing affordability, all these things, impact us all and they are much more pressing and urgent if we want to be better, happier, healthier people, than what the colour of our skin or our heritage is. That's what is essentially at the heart of a public servant who runs for office.

And Jad is right, you can't escape identity politics. it's unfortunate that most people can't wrap their heads around the idea that a person's identity is a mosaic, he is obviously all those things, he's got Arabic heritage, he's a pastor, he's just like any ordinary average 'American' (Whatever that means), where he has to worry about his kids education, supporting his family, and all that. But it's getting more and more common now that a person has intersectional, quilt-like, tapestry-like structure to who they really are, and our insistence to pigeon hole and classify people 'neatly' has to gradually disappear.

And as the story clearly illustrates, the more we follow him, the more he seems to only represent his community, because it's a numbers game! And in the end people will vote for those that they subconsciously (or consciously) feel is the most similar to them. This is what Father K had to contend with....I disagree with the tone that Simon take when he said this line, as if his campaign promise to represent everyone is nothing but a front. It seems like as a white dude from Wisconsin, he is really missing the point.

Oct. 16 2017 06:23 AM
Janis from Riga

I just wanted to come here and thank Radiolab for making this story :)
For me personally, Radiolab is one of the incredibly rare podcasts that continues to consistently make great stories on monthly basis.
Thanks for that :)

Oct. 16 2017 02:05 AM
Laurel from Spokane, WA

I appreciate Sophie and Jason Burke Murphy's comments. The piece focuses a lot of energy on walking the "fine line" of being an Arab-American candidate speaking to multiple constituencies. This focus misses the point for me. If you draw attention to Father K's focus on the Arab-American community/concerns/voter turnout, why isn't it fair to say the other candidate is focusing on white concerns/voter turnout? My guess is the other candidate targeted their election night outreach in the predominately white areas of the district where they had more IDs, but the producer doesn't seem to think that's worthy of mentioning, while Father K's focus on the areas where he has more IDs (a very normal strategy in elections), is taken as "proof" that he was always on one "side" to begin with. Please do better Radiolab.

Oct. 16 2017 01:39 AM

Heya Radiolab hear me out: what if Father Kay lost simply because he wasn't the best candidate in the race ? Did you ever consider that far-out scenario or would you rather accuse every person who did not vote for Father Kay to be a racist ? This story was irresponsible journalism. Let's make Radiolab great again ! This wasa a far cry from Patient Zero and From Tree to Shining Tree two of my favorite Radiolab episodes

Oct. 15 2017 11:36 PM
Relocated from Park Slope from Bay Ridge

There are a number of assertions about Bay Ridge that get delivered as fact seemingly without any actual research - for example, this idea that immigrants are driving house prices up because they bid high and then illegally subdivide the buildings into many apartments. Show me the numbers - because what I see is a lot of people moving here from Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, and Boerum Hill because you can still aspire to a single family house at prices that would get you a one-bedroom coop in other neighbrohoods. These folks are coming here specifically because the neighborhood is diverse - not only communally but also economically (note Bay Ridge Median imcome is almost exactly NYC median whereas Park slope is about double the NYC median). Secondly, Hillary voters (i.e. "regular" Democrats as opposed to Democratic Socialists) perhaps were not thrilled with a message that sounded like "if you voted Bernie, you should vote for me" so soon after a really painful defeat (speaking of which, has El Yateem endorsed he Dem candidate at this point?). third, the Brannan campaign's "Our Guy" thing was clearly intended to mean that he is the guy people ALREADY call for constituent services - literally every Facebook complaint about missed DSNY pick ups, traffic lights, or even "what the heck was that noise" gets tagged to him to track down. The people who thought it was a dog whistle just don't know enough about the guy and his supporters. Finally, I think not describing the "fontrunner" at all while showcasing some deplorables was a low blow to the neighborhood. Radiolab, I love you - please do better.

Oct. 15 2017 08:45 PM
Samira Jubran from rochester,mn

Thank you for this great work!
Would love to see a tackle of the census issue with Professer/comedian Amer Zahr

"We're not white"

Oct. 15 2017 12:07 PM

Khader el yateem is an Arab american lutheran pastor and father of two girls attending college. His concerns lie in his arab heritage, his Christianity and as a father paying bills. Thats who he is and that's the platform he ran. Yet you say he ran two campaigns which was the reason he lost. He is arab and he is american. Those are not contradictory.

Oct. 15 2017 10:42 AM
Ashley from Queensbury, NY

Can you please bleep the swears or offer a bleeped version? During this episode, one time the f word was bleeped, but in another instance, it wasn't.

Oct. 14 2017 11:18 PM

Did anyone on the staff notice that they were reporting on a candidate for elected office who campaigned at places of worship DURING religious services by speaking to the assembled congregation (just after the opening prayers) and asking for their support, all while dressed in the garb of a clergyman?

Oct. 14 2017 09:14 PM
Jason Burke Murphy from Belchertown, MA

I enjoyed this podcast and am glad you made it.

I would like to correct a couple of points. Simon Adler left listeners with the impression that this was a very unusual race. Abumrad and Krulwich and Adler were shocked that a district with 20,000 Arab residents would be a difficult place to get 4,000 votes. I did election work in Arkansas and Missouri and was trained by people who worked all over the country. The numbers in this campaign were very similar to numbers we used. I was only surprised that he did as well as he did with only 5,500 people committed to vote for him right before the election. That usually gets you half that number.

In other words, this election was not nearly as unusual as it was presented. There is very, very, low turn-out in US local elections. People who have not voted are very hard to get out. I organized rides to the polls. I got people to sign forms that said "You can count on me." And I was very far away from Brooklyn.

El-Yateem's supporters did very well. I have seen white voters do very similar things when campaigning against challengers, especially ones who are Black or have Black support. There are a lot of whispers and a lot of direct race-baiting.

There were also some moments where I thought that Adler was bemused or was finding irony when there is no need. There is no conflict between representing Arab residents and the "whole neighborhood". El-Yateem offers hope in easing a lot of the tensions in that neighborhood. He also proved he can talk to a very high percentage of people there.

I hope these comments are taken in the spirit in which I am giving them. I really appreciated the coverage of this campaign. Most election coverage is not this good. Thank you, Radiolab, again.

Oct. 14 2017 06:40 PM
Sarsour Fraud

Why is RadioLab hiding the truth? See for yourself the real Linda Sarsour in her own words. Total bigot

Who is Linda Sarsour?

She is a woman who has two sets of standards.

She poses as a universal activist who embraces all marginalized people, but she excludes anyone whose views do not completely align with hers.

She is a white woman who poses as a woman of color, but she denies other white women the stage she seizes for herself.

She poses as a black feminist, but she refuses to fight for women's rights in Muslim societies and tries to silence other black and Muslim feminists who expose oppression against women.

She poses as an opponent of anti-Semitism and a proponent of racial justice who fights for Palestinian national self-determination, but she denies Jews the same right.

She demands free speech for herself and for her BDS campaign, but shuts down the free speech of anyone who disagrees with her.

In summary, Linda Sarsour is a poseur who uses others to promote herself.

Anti semitism always reveals itself because truth is stronger than lies. Sarsour is a bigot and anti semite and it's a great day for America that a cause she supported did not succeed.

Oct. 14 2017 11:49 AM
Ahmed A from WA

I did enjoy listening to this episode, i have only the following comment to made about the reason why Egyptian Christians not supporting him, the reasons mentioned are partly correct, the not so correct part is not because they don't trust Muslims, which maybe true to a certain degree in certain circles, but mainly because they don't trust Muslim brotherhood candidates. It can be argued that there is no relationship between the brotherhood and this candidate, but i believe in general the Coptic public associate this kind of activism with the brotherhood, and maybe because Linda was part of it they got this feeling. I have no proof that Linda has any thing to do with the brotherhood, but from the media coverage one get this impression.

Oct. 13 2017 10:38 PM
Pizza Wagon from Brooklyn, NY

Re: Sam's comment. I've lived in Bay Ridge for the past 20 years, and I would definitely agree that it is a neighborhood with some tensions, especially between Arab-Americans and the older, white, conservative-leaning folks who view them with suspicion. It ain't as dramatically divided as, say, Crown Heights, but it is certainly not a unified community.

Oct. 13 2017 05:51 PM
Isaac Hopkins from VA

What are you doing, Radiolab? You all have fallen from my favorite podcast of all time to... just another This American Life. Where's the science? Where's the profundity. This is just a crash-course in crass identity politics, as though someone's interests could only be represented by someone of the same race or religion (tough luck for us atheists, then). Even though this discussion is important, Radiolab is not the correct forum for this kind of story. Everyone else is having this argument, and I'm tired of it. It's all noise on a pale blue dot, noise that Radiolab used to be able to cut through.

Oct. 13 2017 03:54 PM
D from Denton, TX.

I agree with Sophie and Shauna. Father K's response to Radiolab's ignorance in this regard was handled patiently and respectfully. My respects to him, for pressing on despite everything.

However, I'm disappointed with Radiolab for their lack of nuance and understanding in their questioning... The rest of the episode was fine. This was an important story to cover.

Oct. 13 2017 03:38 PM
Troy O. from North Idaho

Any reason there was not a warning about profane language on this piece? I really appreciate when you take a few seconds to do that.

Oct. 13 2017 03:19 PM

It feels like you missed something really essential in the conversation about whether he was a candidate for Arab people or everyone. You would never put that dichotomy on a liberal white candidate. Liberal white candidates often campaign on the platform of being for everyone regardless of race/ethnicity, using policies that specifically support black folks, Arab people, etc. A white candidates focus on these race/ethnicity-specific policies would not be considered to take away from or be in conflict with the message that they are a candidate for everyone. Father K repeatedly cites his own identity as shaping his political identity. This episode's point of view centers the white experience as the norm -white candidates can support non-white people without being questioned, but Father K is not afforded the same understanding. It also centers the white experience as the norm by not allowing Father K's experiences of discrimination to be a valid motivation to run. We would never question a white candidates biases in this way.

Oct. 13 2017 01:43 PM
Sam from Bay Ridge

Most divided neighborhood in NYC? Are you kidding? Have you ever been to Bay Ridge? Give me a break.

Oct. 13 2017 11:59 AM

I couldn't disagree more. I felt, as a white American married to an Arab naturalized American citizen that the story of Father El Yateem's struggles as a candidate captured where we are as a nation. We married in 2001, just months before 9/11 and it feels like there has been a steady increase in identity politics and Islamophobia. Thank you for sharing this story.

Oct. 13 2017 11:10 AM
Identity Politics

Why would Radiolab be promoting identity politics and attributing this guy's loss purely to his ethnicity? I wouldn't vote for him for 1 reason and 1 reason alone-- he is a Democratic socialist. Are you not allowed to vote against someone because of their ideas anymore? Is ethnicity the only consideration that could possibly be attributed to your motivation? I go to Radiolab for actual journalism, and you guys do a great job. This report was disappointing.

Oct. 13 2017 10:43 AM

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