Arab American Institute
The Rise In Political Influence
days in the 1980s, had
a problem we call the
problem of exclusion,"
said Dr. James Zogby,
Institute (AAI) presi-
dent. "Candidates gave
money back and reject-
ed endorsements. It was
Zogby was speaking to a crowd of
350 people in Dearborn at the AAI
National Leadership Conference on
Oct. 17. "The price we paid in the
1980s has borne fruit," he said. "The
doors are now open."
Eight of nine Democratic presidential
candidates gave their pitch to the crowd
and to members of the local, national
and international press over the three-
ABC's George Stephanopolous was
there; so was the Washington Post's David
Broder. Cameramen from "Nightline"
and Al-Jazeera stood on risers in back.
The doors were certainly wide open,
wide enough to see the hecklers inter-
rupt U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-
Conn., during the first speech..
Lieberman had the nerve to call Israel
a democratic state and wouldn't use the
term terrorism to describe the razing of
the homes of Palestinian suicide
From the podium, Zogby admon-
ished the few hecklers after the speech,
saying this was not part of their culture.
Zogby wrested enough control that
when former Vermont Gov. Howard
Dean waffled on a question about "The
Wall" — Israel's security fence — his
comments drew silence instead of jeers.
WhenU.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-
Ohio, spoke harshly of President George
W. Bush's policies in Iraq and his sup-
port of Israel's Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon, he received a standing ovation,
unlike any other candidate who spoke
during the event. Maybe it was a reac-
tion to Lieberman, who had just spo-
ken; maybe it was the Kucinich cam-
paign workers in the crowd.
Did the adulation show true support
for a man who has less of a chance to be
president than Rev. Al Sharpton? Do
you call that being politically astute or
being politically obtuse?
When Zogby made it clear during his
opening statement that AAI does not
endorse anyone, he was reading from a
playbook familiar to Jews.
"They don't mind telling you openly
that they are copying AIPAC [American
Israel Public Affairs Committee]," said
Emery Klein, a longtime Jewish com-
munity leader and Democratic Party
supporter from Southfield.
He said the message from the candi-
dates to the Arab world should be clear.
"There cannot be peace if they con-
tinue to educate their kids to hate Israel
or hate the Jews," Klein said at a Friends
of the Israel Defense Forces dinner in
Southfield the night before. "There
should be a dialogue, and it should be
brought to an understanding that if they
will continue the violence and continue
the suicide bombing, it won't get them
Not surprisingly, the hot-button topic
in the Arab American community is the
same as the Jewish community: the
Although the Jewish community is
further ahead in political sway, Arab
Americans are making some headway.
According to the U.S. census, the
total Arab American population is more
than 3 million. The National Jewish
Population Survey shows 5.2 million
A 2000 Zogby International/AAI
"culture poll" showed 88.7 percent of
Arab Americans are registered to vote
compared to 92.3 percent of Jews. And
16 percent of Arab Americans donated
money to presidential candidates com-
pared to 15.6 percent of Jews.
Should Jews be concerned about the
rising political influence of Arab
No, says Lawrence Jackier, Jewish
Federation of Metropolitan Detroit pres-
Gov. Howard Dean of Vet-Wont received
polite applause after a question about the
ident and a staunch supporter of Israel
in his own right.
"I think it's great, it's part of what
makes us a great democracy," Jackier
said. "These candidates feel it's impor-
tant to have the ability to communicate
with this particular part of the elec-
torate. I think that's wonderful and I
don't see it as a threat in any way, not
even a concern. It's part of being here in
this great country, and its part of a
FLEXING from page 16
on all but the Israel-Palestinian issue, community
"The Patriot Act was a galvanizing issue for a lot
of different world views, from fourth-generation
Lebanese Christians to Palestinians who have just
arrived," said pollster John Zogby, James Zogby's
Tales of arrests and detention without legal con-
sultation, and the prospect of federal agents drop-
ping into mosques to listen to sermons, lent Arabs
and Muslims who never gave a second thought to
domestic issues an issue to rally around, said
Muqtedar Khan, a social scientist at Adrian College
in Michigan. Khan tracks Muslims in America.
"They saw what can happen when things go
bad," Khan said. "Who will protect their rights?"
At the conference, each Democratic candidate for
president earned cheers by promising to repeal at
least parts of the act.
Sept. 11 also spurred many American Arabs and
Muslims to feel the same rage at being attacked that
their compatriots did, Khan said. "Sept. 11 put the
`American' in Muslim American," he said.
Many Arabs say Sept. 11 also helped throw their
sense of Americanness into relief.
"No other country, much as we criticize it, is as
wonderful," Shalabi said.
That new sense of belonging has led many
Muslims and Arabs to consider other domestic
issues not often considered a high priority by Arab
Americans. Young Muslims have set up study
groups to develop political positions on such issues
as abortion, genetic engineering and gay rights.
Some cast such outreach as a strategy to advance
issues dear to Arab Americans — especially when
addressing what many Arab Americans consider to
be a lack of balance in the Middle East.
"Don't just focus on Arab American issues," Jim
Shaer, a former adviser to Sen. John Kerry, D-
Mass., told a workshop on political outreach. "If
you talk about other issues, the elected official will
pay more attention to you."
Others say the bread-and-butter issues are fast
becoming the point.
"We can't be the foreign policy people solely,"
said Marwan Kreidie of Philadelphia. "Make sure
we're involved in the health care debate, the jobs
One question is whether such interests will sup-
plant the passion Arab Americans feel for the
Middle East, especially the Israeli-Palestinian con-
flict. The conference suggests it won't — none of
the politicians could successfully squirm away from
questions on U.S. policy in the Middle East.
But away from the conference, there are signs the
Middle East is not the fire starter it once was for
"I'm a local issues guy," said Kamal Nawash, a
Jerusalem-born candidate for the Virginia Senate.
"You can't get far focusing on international issues
alone. To appeal to the heartland of America, you
have to assimilate." ❑