Director’s doc on Rev. Khader El-Yateem’s City Council run set to premiere on nationwide television

December 3, 2021 Jaime DeJesus
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A documentary on Rev. Khader El-Yateem, a Palestinian American and Lutheran pastor who was active in Bay Ridge for many years, is premiering on television nationwide on WORLD Channel Dec. 14.

“Brooklyn Inshallah,” directed and produced by Ahmed Mansour, followed the 43rd District City Council race in 2017. Then-Councilmember Vincent Gentile was being term-limited out, and El-Yateem — who now holds a post with the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Florida and lives in that state — was campaigning to become the first Arab American elected to the City Council in New York City.

Mansour came to Brooklyn from Gaza in 2015 and was filming several videos and documentaries as a student at NYU. Following the 2016 presidential election, he went to Washington, D.C. for the inauguration of President Donald Trump, interviewed several attendees and encountered rioting.

Father Khader El-Yateem hard at work in front of his campaign headquarters. Photos by Ahmed Mansour

He met Brooklyn Arab American political activist Linda Sarsour at the Women’s March the following day. She later introduced him to El-Yateem, who was also the founder of the Salam Arabic Lutheran Church of  Brooklyn. Right away, Mansour knew El-Yateem’s story was worth telling.

“I went to the church and he was giving masses in Arabic and I was impressed,” he said. “This person is very sophisticated. He’s a man of faith and I talked to all of the people in the church and they were all different types of Christians and everyone had different stories.”

While filming the documentary, Mansour described El-Yateem as not being a polished politician but someone who spoke his mind.

“He’s just very humble with the people and takes everybody in,” he said. 

He explained how discouraging the lack of voter turnout in the area was for him.

“Being a Palestinian from Gaza, we don’t have a country, a democracy, we are under occupation,” Mansour explained. “My lifelong dream was to vote. Voting is not something you think about. I interviewed the campaign manager and she told me that among the 40,000 Arab Americans [in the district], only 250 people voted in the last election.”

After speaking to many voters, he found that there was a lot of distrust.

“They were very skeptical,” he said. “They didn’t want to have their names on any government document like a voting ballot because they thought it was a form of surveillance.”

Although Mansour enjoyed the diverse nature of Bay Ridge, he started to see a more complicated political environment.

“When you go to [some of] the houses, they would say unpleasant things. First about him being a pastor, and then being an Arab,” he said. “People are so divided and with so much hatred and unwillingness to open their hearts. It was either black or white.”

The documentary also delves into what Mansour believed to be the difficult side of the election process.

“Later in the campaign, he really managed to organize the Arab voter,” he said. “He had thousands and he cultivated the space and clearly, he was becoming a threat, and then the establishment rose against that.”

After Democratic primary night in 2017, Justin Brannan received 38.8 percent, of the vote while El-Yateem had 31.3 percent. Brannan, a former rock musician and community activist, became the district’s councilmember.

When asked what lessons Mansour wanted audiences to take out of his film, he mentioned that America’s strength is its diversity and people’s ability to accept each other, even if that concept seems to be losing its momentum. 

“Also, the system doesn’t serve the non-organized,” he explained. You have to organize for the system to think to accept you. 

Third, he said, “People realize that if Americans don’t step up to protect this democracy, it will be something from the past, unfortunately.”

“Brooklyn Inshallah” can be seen on TV and streaming as part of the series “America ReFramed” nationwide on WORLD Channel and on beginning on Dec. 14 at 8 p.m. Eastern time.

Following its Dec. 14 debut, the film will continue to stream at, and on all station-branded PBS platforms, including the PBS app.

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