Syrian native says she’s ‘disgusted’ by Dixon accepting Tulsi Gabbard’s endorsement

Democrat Shadia Martini recounts the bombing of her family home during the Syrian civil war

By: - October 26, 2022 7:14 am

Tulsi Gabbard after the second debate | Andrew Roth

Democrat Shadia Martini says she is “disgusted” that Republican gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon would celebrate the endorsement of former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, someone she says is an apologist for the brutal Syrian dictator who destroyed her native country and murdered countless civilians.

Martini, who is seeking election to Oakland County’s 54th House District on Nov. 8 against Republican Donni Steele, talked to the Michigan Advance this week about fleeing Syria decades ago and the “horrible night” her family home and hospital were attacked during the civil war.

Republican nominee for Michigan governor Tudor Dixon campaigns in Lansing on Aug. 27, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

Last week, Dixon announced a “major endorsement alert” of Gabbard, adding she was “honored” and couldn’t wait to campaign with Gabbard at events on Saturday and Sunday in the state.

“Today’s Democratic Party has moved so far left and is out of touch with reality. They have abandoned American principles to instead focus on their unpopular woke agenda,” Dixon said. “Tulsi understands that and has been a voice of reason and common sense across party lines. She is courageously speaking her mind and showing us all what it means to be a leading independent thinker.”

Dixon is trying to unseat Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Nov. 8. A request for comment was made by the Advance to the Dixon campaign, but was not returned.

Martini last week expressed on Twitter her anger at Dixon accepting Gabbard’s endorsement.

“10 years ago, Bashar al-Assad blew up my parents’ house while they were still inside,” she wrote. “Yesterday, Assad’s former best friend in Congress, Tulsi Gabbard, endorsed Tudor Dixon and will campaign with her next week. I am so disgusted I can’t even express it in words.”

Martini, who was born in Aleppo, Syria, told the Michigan Advance that the fact Dixon would welcome someone like Gabbard doesn’t speak well for her character.

“You either have to be very ignorant to not know what or who Tulsi Gabbard is, or you don’t care,” said Martini. “And either is horrible, because if she’s ignorant, she’s not fit to be a governor. And if she knows, that’s even worse. She knows who this woman is and who she supports, and she is happy that she endorsed her?”

Martini said both of her parents, who were surgeons, built a hospital in Aleppo in the 1980s, with their home on the top floor, where she grew up. 

Shadia Martini | Facebook

Martini fled Syria in 1992 after studying abroad, saying she did not want to return to life under the “brutal dictatorship” of Hafez al-Assad, the father of Bashar al-Assad. She has a B.S. in architectural engineering from the University of Aleppo and an M.B.A. from the University of Michigan, according to her website.

When mass protests erupted in Syria in 2011, Bashar al-Assad ordered his military to brutally put them down, starting a civil war that in the decade since has killed more than half-million people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In 2012, Martini said she learned that her parents’ hospital had been attacked.

“One of my cousins, who is the pharmacist at the hospital, put a Facebook post saying that the Martini Hospital was hit,” she said. “And of course, I went crazy because my parents lived there. So I started calling. I called my mother; I called my father; I called the hospital. No one was answering the hospital phone. I was crying. I mean, it was just so stressful. So I called my cousin and he said, ‘They’re all in the basement with the patients and everybody, they’re hiding in the basement.’ Even recounting the story, I’m so shaken. It was just a horrible, horrible night.”

Martini says she later learned that the attack occurred when a tank shot at soldiers manning a checkpoint in front of the hospital.

“They couldn’t care less if there was a hospital behind it,” she said. “I mean, that’s the Syrian regime for you. That’s standard practice.”

It’s that type of brutality that Martini says Gabbard aided and abetted and shouldn’t be forgiven.

Gabbard endorsed U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in 2016, which led some to label her a progressive. 

However, in 2017, Gabbard, then a Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii, stunned party leaders when she announced that she had met with Bashar al-Assad during a trip to Syria, which she described as a “fact-finding” mission. 

She drew criticism from both sides of the aisle when she described the opposition to al-Assad as “terrorists,” and later was skeptical al-Assad’s regime was responsible for a chemical weapons attack in April 2017 that killed more than a hundred people.

Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, as seen from the Turkish border town on October 15, 2019 in Ceylanpinar, Turkey. The military action is part of a campaign to extend Turkish control of more of northern Syria, a large swath of which is currently held by Syrian Kurds, whom Turkey regards as a threat. U.S. President Donald Trump granted tacit American approval to this campaign, withdrawing his country’s troops from several Syrian outposts near the Turkish border. | Burak Kara/Getty Images

She has also been labeled by those on the left and right as a Vladimir Putin apologist, helping push Kremlin-backed talking points.

In 2020, Gabbard unsuccessfully ran for president as Democrat, even though Sanders ran again. Both lost to now-President Joe Biden. Earlier this month, Gabbard announced she was leaving the Democratic Party. She began campaigning for many Republicans across the country who won former President Donald Trump’s endorsement, like Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who is facing Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

“The Democrats of today are hostile to people of faith and spirituality,” Gabbard said. “They demonize the police and protect criminals at the expense of law-abiding Americans. The Democrats of today believe in open borders and weaponize the national security state to go after political opponents.”

But for Martini, the memory of that day 10 years ago when she thought she had lost her parents goes beyond politics.

“Just remembering this story makes me so anxious and upset,” said Martini. “And then this woman comes in and she wants to come to Michigan and she wants to support Tudor Dixon? I don’t know what to say. It’s just beyond words.”


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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.