It was a big weekend for former Brooklyn Salam Church pastor and City Council candidate Rev. Khader El-Yateem.
The man who helped inspire the Yalla Brooklyn social justice movement returned to his old neighborhood for a screening of the award-winning documentary “Father K,” which is based on his political activism and campaign for City Council.
El-Yateem, who recently moved to Florida, attended the screening with his wife Grace and their family. The film is the work of Flatbush film director Judd Ehrlich who followed El-Yateem throughout his Democratic primary run for the Bay Ridge City Council seat, and his ultimate defeat by Justin Brannan.
The screening was held on Sun., Dec. 9 at the Alpine Movie Theater, 6817 Fifth Avenue. El-Yateem was joined by community leaders including former opponent Brannan and Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus.
Kayla Santosuosso, El-Yateem’s former campaign manager, hosted the screening. “It’s amazing that we have this documentary film and that it has gone on to win awards at the Austin Film Festival, Red Rock Film Festival, Rhode Island Film Festival, and is being seen by audiences all across the country,” she said.
El-Yateem’s remarkable backstory is revealed within the opening minutes of the film. As a 19-year-old student living in Palestine and studying at the Bethlehem Bible College, he was arrested by the Israelis. “I was not active in any political party or carrying out any violent acts against the occupation,” El-Yateem said.
He was taken from his bedroom with his hands tied and a bag over his head. He was arrested, locked in a dark room and tortured for 54 days before he was allowed to leave.
What emerges from this film is how this incident precipitated El-Yateem’s lifelong quest for social justice. In the film, his voice trembles as he recalls his mother running from the house and falling on the pavement to hold him upon his return and his vow to find ways to end this type of violent activity.
“You’ve survived the Israeli prison and now you are a hero,’” he recalls his mother telling him. “’Everyone wants to come and recruit you and use your bitterness to do something against the occupation.’ And I said that is not what I am going to do. I am going to commit to non-violence. I’m going to commit to dialogue.”
El-Yateem came to America in 1992 and became a U.S. citizen in 1996. That was a cathartic time for him.
“For the first time in my life, I registered to vote,” he said. “That was something I never had the right to do. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was somebody.”
And that was when he decided to engage people in the political system and strive for needed changes.
“We’ve become more fractured and more divided,” he said. “It is extremely important for us in this area to continue to mobilize and organize, and rise up and resist against the rhetoric that is coming from the White House.”
But the film is also infused with humor, especially in scenes where El-Yateem interacts with his political rivals. At one particular City Council primary debate, the question is asked whether Christopher Columbus’ statue should be removed from Columbus Square.
Then-candidates Brannan, Vincent Chirico and Lucretia Regina-Potter all state that they believe the statue should remain, to which El-Yateem responds, “Did you hear the joke about the three Italians and the Arab?”
Santosuosso acknowledged Brannan’s attendance by adding, “Tonight is not an awards show, but if it was, then the award for best sport would go to Councilman Justin Brannan, his former opponent in the race.” Brannan also joined El-Yateem for an informative Q & A following the screening.
El-Yateem was asked about the status of his fight for Arabic interpreters to assist non-English speaking voters at polling sites, an issue that might have cost El-Yateem votes during his primary run. He lost to Brannan by less than 800 votes.
Brannan addressed the question by saying that it was a tough dilemma for him. “As a kid growing up in Bay Ridge, this was the kind of campaign I would have liked to have worked on,” he admitted.
Brannan said that he had introduced a bill that would allow Arabic interpreters and translators in every city polling site that needed one and hoped to have the bill passed in time for the next election.
“I can lie and say that we would have done that anyway,” Brannan said. “But it was the first thing we spoke about after the campaign and I kept my promise to get it done.”
El-Yateem explained how when he first came to Bay Ridge in 1995, he immediately wanted to form a bond of unity. He met with the imam from the Islamic Center of Bay Ridge and then went to the Bay Ridge Jewish Center to meet the rabbi.
“This campaign really expanded my horizon to go beyond my identity of who I am, and care about others in a way that I had never cared about others before,” El-Yateem remarked. “It also taught me to understand where everyone comes from and how we can welcome each other without the prejudices that we are either born with, raised with or have bestowed upon us . . . It’s all about building these bridges and relationships so that we can work together collectively.”