Jewish candidate praised for coming out "among the lions" at Arab American conference.
oseph Lieberman, unlikely to win much
Arab support in his bid for the presidency,
may have made the best impression of all
the Democratic candidates appearing at an
Arab American forum this weekend.
The Connecticut senator, whose Jewish faith and
pro-Israel record was an issue for Arab Americans •
when he ran for vice president in 2000, earned
points just by showing up last Friday at the Arab
American Institute conference in Dearborn.
"It was classy that he came," said Rami Naser, a
Palestinian-born student at Florida State University.
Lieberman made headlines when he was booed for.
saying that Israel is a democratic state and for refus-
ing to describe Israeli demolitions of Palestinian
homes as terror.
But the hecklers were a minority and were quickly
shushed by others — and the ensuing controversy
helped fuel his popularity.
"I'm so grateful he came, for his honesty and
integrity, whether or not I agree with his agenda,"
said Samia El-Badry, a demographer from Austin,
Texas. "I'm more than embarrassed for our commu-
nity to ask a guest and then to speak out of turn and
to boo him."
The main heckler was not an Arab American, and
some conference participants suggested that the hos-
tile reception was upsetting because it was inconsis-
tent with Arab culture.
The next day, when candidate Howard Dean
made one of the same points — that Israel was a
democracy — there was silence, but no booing.
Dr. James Zogby, president of the institute,
admonished the hecklers, saying it reflected poorly
on the organization's coming of age.
"That's not what we are," he told conference-
goers. "Five people have no right to define 25
aff photos by Harry Ki rsbaum
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Lieberman directly addressed issues that several
other candidates tried to avoid, including the securi-
ty fence Israel is building in the West Bank. The
willingness to be direct impressed some, even
though they didn't like his message.
"He didn't come and tickle your ears," Michael
Farah, a Republican who heads the National
Lebanese-American Chamber of Commerce, said
the next day when the incident was being discussed.
"The next time I'm in Washington, I'm going to
visit Joe Lieberman and thank him for coming out
here among the lions."
Zogby had, in introducing Lieberman, noted the
senator's openness to Arab Americans despite politi-
Above: U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman speaks frankly to the
conferences Arab American audience.
Right: Some comments from Sen. Lieberman drew
heckles from a few participants.
Lieberman's first stop in 2000 after being chosen
as Al Gore's vice presidential candidate was with an
Arab American group. hi 1992, he used his connec-
tions to force the Clinton campaign to open its
doors to Arab Americans.
Lieberman also consults with Zogby on civil liber-
"I like the person, I like what he's done in reach-
ing out to my community," Zogby told JTA. "When
other candidates rejected us, Joe Lieberman came to
talk to us."
Zogby also noted that Lieberman's appearance
came just before the Sabbath and the holiday of
One of the hecklers.said Lieberman should have
stuck to what unites the Arab and Jewish communi-
ties and kept away from the Middle East.
• "There is a very weak bridge between the Muslim
and Jewish community in the United States and we
need to strengthen that bridge," said Imam Ahmed
El Khaldy of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
"There are so many things we could discuss.
Instead, to talk about opinion in the Middle East
won't build that bridge."
Lieberman, who earned polite applause for his
criticism of how the Bush administration has han-
dled minorities since the Sept. 11 attacks, said he -
thought his audience deserved an unvarnished
telling of his opinions.
"I thought it was important to stress what we have
in common as Americans," he told reporters. "I was
not going to pander or waffle to please a crowd."
He wasn't perturbed by the heckling.
"I would have been disappOinted if there hadn't
been that reaction," Lieberman said. "It reminded
me of dinner with my family."