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May 20, 1988 - Image 26

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

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

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attempt to build a broader-based Arab-
American movement around the same is-
sues, and to build a national constituency"
In 1984, he became involved in the Jesse
Jackson campaign, an experience that, he
says, opened new doors for him and his
movement. Out of this experience grew his
current political vehicle, the Arab
American Institute, which he formed in
1985 with George Salem, a Reagan-Bush
staffer.
"The purpose of AAI is purely electoral.
This year, for the first time, we've
developed an 'issues agenda' for Arab
Americans. We did it collectively —
through town meetings in 17 cities, and we
sent it out to 11,000 people, and they voted
on it and modified it. It talks about educa-
tion, health care, immigration, civil liber-
ties and foreign policy. We see this process
as important; it's the development of a col-
lective sense of leadership. The document
is a community possession."
Zogby signed on the Jackson campaign
team again in 1988; currently, he is the top
Arab-American in the campaign, and a
member of the inner circle around the
candidate.
The Jackson campaigns, he says, only
reinforced his belief that the name of the
game in America is ethnic politics.
"We didn't invent ethnic politics," Zogby
says. "In Chicago, that's how people are
organized. You don't have the luxury of
saying, well, let's just be Democrats. You're
either a Polish Democrat, a Jewish
Democrat, a black Democrat. And the pie
just gets sliced up so many ways. If you're
not organized, you don't get a slice. And
our people didn't get slices for a long time."
Jesse Jackson, he says, has given Arab-
Americans a sense of inclusion in the
political process that has affected politics
at the local level — especially in cities with
black elected officials. He uses the ad-
ministration of the late mayor Harold
Washington of Chicago as an example.
"Jackson opened a door that allowed us to
make the relationship with Harold
Washington real. It was a sense of mutual
interest. We had votes, we had money —
and we owned a hell of a lot of grocery
stores in Chicago. We were able to organize
those stores in the aldermanic campaigns."
The fruits of that relationship, he says,
included a liaison commission between the
city government and the Arab-American
population. It also included the more
tangible fruits of big-city politics, in-
cluding jobs and city contracts.
The 1984 Jackson campaign, he says,
also taught him important lessons about
places like Dearborn, Michigan. "We went
to Dearborn and saw a large, unregistered
constituency that was thrilled about the
campaign, but couldn't do anything about
it," he says. "We began a voter registration
project. For the first time last year, Dear-
born elected an Arab-American official.

They didn't see themselves as a constituen-
cy a few years ago; now they do."
In the recent Michigan caucuses, Dear-
born's Arab American community turned
out in record numbers — and voted almost
unanimously for Jesse Jackson.
The symbolic importance of Jackson's
inclusion of Arab-Americans, Zogby -sug-
gests, cannot be overemphasized. Repeat-
edly, he comes back to the rejection by
mainstream politicians of Arab-American
support — a rejection. that he lays at the
doorstep of the pro-Israel community. He
is still stung by politicians who refuse to
take Arab money for fear of being tainted
with the "anti-Israel" label. He cites ex-
amples of canceled speaking engagements,
of friendly politicians who still refuse to be
seen in public with prominent Arab-
Americans.
"Some elements within the Jewish com-
munity play this zero-sum game in
politics," he says, his anger bubbling to the
surface. "I'm still getting calls from
reporters who say they've heard that Jesse
Jackson is 'really coming around' — but
that there's a problem, and the problem is
that I'm in the campaign. I don't unders-
tand that; I'm an American too. There are
still local politicians who hesitate to come
close to the Arab community because of
the fear of being targeted by the Jewish
community."
Despite the official grass-roots emphasis
of AAI, the Middle East is never far from
the surface of the group's activities. On the
question of solutions for the Middle East
dilemma, Zogby starts off sounding like
some Labor Party politicians in Israel —
but with an aftertaste that won't appeal to
many of Israel's supporters.
"The bottom line is an international
peace conference," he says, "with PLO
representation. A negotiated settlement,
with the occupied territories becoming a
Palestinian state."
On the question of Israel's right to ex-
ist, he claims that there is now a consen-
sus that Israel is a reality that is not like-
ly to go away. The Arab American com-
munity, he says, has learned to differen-
tiate between different struggles. "In the
West Bank and Gaza, the struggle is for
statehood; in Israel, the struggle is for full
democratic rights. The reality is, an Israeli
people exist. And that's something that
took us a while."
In a distinction that may escape most
supporters of Israel, he argues that Palesti-
nians can deal with Israel as an accepted
reality without accepting it as a Jewish
state. "No, they don't accept this. I don't
accept that Lebanon wants to be a Chris-
tian state, or that Iran wants to be a
Muslim state. Does America accept that
the Soviet Union is a communist state? No.
States recognize the EXISTENCE of each
other; they don't take loyalty oaths to the
philosophies of each other. That's too much
to ask."

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