Arab American Swing Vote Up For Grabs

Arab-American Swing Vote Up for Grabs

Gary Younge has a truly excellent article in the Guardian on the Arab-American community and the way they are leaning toward Kerry this time, after a majority supported Bush in 2000.

The Arab-Americans are a significant minority in several swing states, including Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. At a point in American history when several state races may hang on a few thousand votes (or even a few hundred), minorities like the Arab-Americans can make a crucial difference.

Younge notes the disappointment in the community over John Edwards’ remarks in the vice presidential debate:

during the vice- presidential debate, Mr Edwards was asked: “What would your administration do to try to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?”

Mr Edwards said: “First, the Israeli people not only have the right to defend themselves, they should defend themselves. They have an obligation to defend themselves. What are the Israeli people supposed to do? How can they continue to watch Israeli children killed by suicide bombers, killed by terrorists?”

In a week in which Israel launched its bloodiest incursion into Gaza in four years, he did not mention Palestine once. “After I heard that I thought I’m not going to go out and cheer for him,” says Ms Judeh, who attended the Democratic national convention this year.

“I was a loyal Democrat. I distributed the tickets. But I wasn’t going to go. We don’t expect them to be pro-Palestinian. But they won’t even say ‘We support a just peace in the Middle East’.” ‘

I watched al-Jazeerah after the Edwards-Cheney debate, and they were interviewing a focus group of Arab-Americans in Cleveland. Everyone was outraged by Edwards’s remark. You could see how it hurt the Democratic ticket with the Arab-Americans, just because it was so egregious.

I don’t even know what the remark was supposed to mean. Is it that the Likud isn’t doing a good enough job of expropriating and killing Palestinians? They aren’t fulfilling their obligations well enough?

What if Edwards had said this:

“First, the Palestinian people not only have the right to defend themselves, they should defend themselves. They have an obligation to defend themselves. What are the Palestinian people supposed to do? How can they continue to watch Palestinian children killed by aerial bombers, killed by state terrorists?”

If his remark about Israel is meaningful, on what grounds would the above not be equally meaningful? Although Edwards is a good man, who genuinely cares about working people (he may be the most passionate national candidate for a major party we have had on such issues since Walter Mondale), his statement was far more unbalanced than it needed to be, even just for cynical electioneering purposes.

A majority of American Jews is closer to the liberal “Americans for Peace Now” than to AIPAC, the American Jewish Congress, and other such rightwing single-issue advocacy groups. American Jews naturally want to be assured that the United States will continue to be a close ally of Israel and will work to ensure the security of Israelis.

But most American Jews know that Sharon’s policies, which clearly are aimed at preventing the emergence of a Palestinian state, aren’t actually good for Israel. A stateless person (which is what West Bank Palestinians are) may as well be a slave. The stateless have no civil rights, no recognition as persons in the law. Their lives are spent petitioning for things other people take for granted. Their property and lives can be taken at will. Is Sharon going to keep 3 million people in that state indefinitely? Edwards could have found some formulation, such as “We will work harder than this administration has on getting a peace process going, since peace and an end to terrorism are the best guarantors of Israel’s security in the long term.”

I know that AIPAC and AJC hate phrases like “mutually acceptable,” since they are jingoistic chauvinists. Maybe they even hate a phrase like “peace process.” But the neoconservative Jews aren’t going to vote for Kerry-Edwards anyway, and they are probably only 10 percent or so.

Kerry and Edwards have to decide if they want to try to get the neoconservative vote (which they probably can’t have) and alienate the Arab-Americans, or whether they want to give up on the neoconservative Jews and try for the Arab-Americans, who actually can be won over.

There are about 7 million self-identified Jews in the US, although only about 4 million of them say they believe in God. Only about nine percent are self-identified, reliable conservatives.

The number of Arab-Americans is tough to know, because so many of them are second and third generation Lebanese, and many do not think of themselves as Arabs. If you counted everyone with at least 1/8 Arab descent (and these will include large numbers of Lebanese Americans) it would probably come to five million. I’d guess no more than 2 million or so are self-conscious about it, though.

On the other hand, there are probably on the order of 3 million Muslim Americans, only a minority of which are Arab-Americans. Both groups probably vote in far fewer numbers than the general population, though it is possible that September 11 and Iraq have caused them to register to vote in higher than usual numbers.

The Muslim Americans are now starting to mobilize for Kerry.

With just a slight change in rhetoric, Kerry and Edwards could probably avoid alienating most of these Arab Americans and Muslim Americans, and could at the same time get the vast majority of the Jewish vote. They’d be trading a small number of pro-Likud voters for hundreds of thousands of Arab- and Muslim-American voters.

It would be the smart thing to do.

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