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May 20, 1988 - Image 25

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-05-20

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

dollars. Now they recognize and under-
stand that an Arab-American community
does exist."
This growing recognition from the out-
side was paralleled by a new awareness
within the Arab-American community. A
generation ago, he says, the community
was dominated by immigrants from tiny
villages in Syria and Lebanon. "Our
parents were unlike the first few waves of
Jewish immigration," he says. "The early
Jewish immigrants were urban, they
brought with them organization and the
qualities of urban people, like voluntarism
and associationism. Our people didn't; they
came from peasant villages in Lebanon
and Syria."
But their children — his own generation,
Zogby says — have become Americanized.
"We've gone through that process of
becoming American urban people, and
learning about volunteering and associa-
tions. We want to get into politics; we want
to get involved."
As he describes his community, it is
about 2.5 million strong. Geographically,
it is centered in several states. "It's a corn-
pact community," Zogby says. "There's a
very big group in Southeast Michigan.
Very large in Chicago. Also in Eastern
Massachusetts, Western Pennsylvania, the
northern belt of Ohio. There are also big
concentrations in the Bay area of Califor-
nia and in Houston."
This compactness, he suggests, is a big
political plus for the Arab-American com-
munity. "It makes it easier to organize as
a voting block."
Zogby waves a big cigar as he talks. In
his conversation, he mixes sweeping analyses
with a kind of big-city, fast-talking 'street
smarts.' He has a politician's knack for self-
control, for appraising his audience and ad-
justing. In an interview with a Jewish
reporter, he frequently comes back to com-
parisons between his own community and
the Jewish immigrants who piled into
American cities a few generations back.
Jim Zogby's own resume' as a political
organizer reflects the evolution of the
Arab-American movement in the days

since the Six Day War.
"In '67, I had only a vague sense of what
was happening," he says. "I watched the
UN debates, and had this vague sense that
Arthur Goldberg wasn't representing me.
It was painful, but not clear."
He was active in the movement against
U.S. involvement in Vietnam — and, he
says, he was confused and angered by his
Jewish comrades in the movement who op-
posed war in Indochina, but enthusiastical-
ly supported Israel in the Six Day War. "As
someone who was committed to non-vio-
lence — and still is — I couldn't under-
stand: was this a peace movement, or
something else?"
He traveled to the Middle East for the
first time in 1971 to do dissertation
research. He spent time in refugee camps,
an event he describes now as "transform-
ing."
Back in the United States, he formed his
first organization — a local Pennsylvania
group that grew into a federation of Arab-
American groups throughout the state.
From there he founded the Palestine
Human Rights Campaign.
"It was an effort to build a coalition of
church and peace groups and the black
leadership on questions of human rights,"
he says. "We raised the issue of Palestinian
rights by focusing on individual cases; we
had a sense that Americans did not know
Palestinians as real people. They could em-
pathize with Jewish victims of violence
because they could deal with them as peo-
ple — but Palestinian victims were sort of
objectivized and neutral. There were so
many bodies killed in a bombing raid in
Lebanon — but who were they?"
It was also at this point that Zogby
began to attract the attention of Jewish
and pro-Israel activists, who were dis-
turbed by his open support of the Palestine
Liberation Organization — and his en-
thusiastic advocacy of the "Zionism as
racism" concept.
Next, he joined forces with former U.S.
senator James Abourezk in forming the
Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Com-
mittee, an organization he describes as "an

4i

e didn't invent
ethnic politics. . . And
the pie just gets cut up
so many ways. If you're
not organized, you don't
get a slice."

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