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Obama recognizes weakness in Arab American electoral strength in pandering to Jewish voters
By Ray Hanania — No matter how bitter a presidential election campaign, you can be assured that candidates are smart enough to know that they must pander to Jewish American voters on the issue of Israel in order to win. This week, leading Democratic contender Barack Obama visited a Synagogue in South Florida, a traditional bastion of pro-Israel support, and assured Jewish audiences there of his “unwavering support” for the Jewish State, as if Arab claims of justice are irrelevant.
Obama’s assurance of support for Israel addressed his political baggage that has made Jewish Americans uncomfortable with his candidacy. A recent Gallup Poll found Jewish voters said they would support Obama in a general election by 62 percent against 31 percent for Republican nominee John McCain.
That is a far smaller percentage of Jewish voter support for past Democratic candidates and it may reflect the fact that supporters of Israel demand total support for Israel even above principle, justice and sometimes morality.
Obama is Christian, but he comes from a cultural heritage of the Muslim World where his father and ancestors were raised in the Islamic teaching of the Qur’an. His middle name is “Hussein,” a name commonly associated with Muslims, especially Arab Muslims.
He has been criticized for his associations with individuals who have been described as “pro-Palestinian,” such as with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Professor Rashid Khalidi.
Obama is the victim of bias himself, biases fanned by extremists in the pro-Israel community, among conservative Republicans, and Christian Evangelists who harp on anti-American comments from Muslims but who openly engage in racist rhetoric and who promote hatred of Muslims.
One of Obama’s key supporters is former President Jimmy Carter. At the Florida speech, Obama distanced himself from Carter, who called for direct talks with Hamas and Hezbollah and raised the issue most Americans refuse to address, that Israel does in fact have more than 120 nuclear weapons.
Obama is seeking to avoid Carter’s growing troubles with American jews that began last year when he published a book accusing Israel’s occupation of “Apartheid-like” practices. Obama can see that most politicians like Carter who challenge Israel are out on the limb alone. The Arab American community is powerless to provide those politicians cover.
Jewish voters are conflicted, though. Obama’s politics reflect the fundamental principles of Democracy and freedoms that they have long supported including as leaders of the Civil Rights movement. On the other hand, Jewish Americans compromise those principled stands when it comes to Israel’s government policies, which often cross the line of morality, fairness and justice.
Arab American voters play a negligible role in the American political system and have been forced by their own failed activism to sit on the sidelines and watch. They can neither help politicians like Carter nor can they exploit Israel’s clear hypocrisies. Obama, once very close to Arab Americans, is being forced to move away from their circles.
Despite some exceptions, most Arab American organizations are disengaged from the political process. They vote, but their votes are often taken for granted. When they donate to political candidates, their donations are often returned.
They remain hostage to a small coterie of extremists who control them by exploiting the hypocrisy in American foreign policies and the double standards which allow Americans to turn a blind eye to Israeli government violence and brutality.
Arab Americans do not speak out against the extremists in their own community, but insist they do denounce “extremism.” It is a distinction that is unacceptable to mainstream Americans but that Arab Americans fail to understand.
The bottom line is presidential candidates pander to the pro-Israel vote not simply because of the power of the pro-Israel lobby and more effectively organized Jewish American voters, but because the Arab Americans remain disorganized and continue to allow themselves to be represented by extremists, whom they hesitate to criticize.
Making matters worse is that secular Arab causes, like the fight for justice and fairness for the Palestinian people, is being eclipsed by the rapidly growing Islamicist movement, and the fast empowerment in America of Muslims.
Although Arabs continue to be stymied in American politics, Muslims are not. Mainly that is because most American Muslims are not Arab. Arabs make up only about 22 percent of the country’s estimated 7.5 million Muslims. The largest segment of American Muslims are African American members of the Nation of Islam or Black Muslim offshoots.
The next largest represent Asian Muslims from Pakistan, India, Malaysia and Indonesia, people who traditionally have strong voices in American politics.
Also, this non-Arab leaning Muslim movement tends to champion the causes of the Islamic community above the cause of Palestine, an acceptable compromise for many American politicians and even supporters of Israel.
Pro-Israeli supporters will engage in dialogues and events with Muslims who are non-Arab, believing that while they cannot divide the Muslim community on the issue of Muslim religious empowerment, they can separate the Muslim community from the cause of Palestine.
The bottom line is that Obama, Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee John McCain can ignore secular Arab and Arab Muslim concerns, profess unwavering support for Israel, and balancing the act by continuing their dialogues and relationships with American Muslims.
The onus has always been and remains on the backs of Arab Americans to overcome the trend which sees their causes usurped by non-Arab Muslim groups and by both secular and religious Arab extremists, and intelligently and strategically engage Americans on issues of justice.
Supporters of Palestine always fail to apply principle in their criticism of Israel’s government actions, for example. They always denounce the killing of civilians by Israel, while remaining silent on the killing of civilians by Palestinian extremist groups such as Hamas.
In order to become an effective voice in the American political system, Arabs must retake the leadership of the Palestinian cause from the non-Arab religious movements, denounce and marginalize the secular and religious Arab extremists, and re-assert issues of principle in addressing American voters.
In other words, supporters of justice in Palestine and true Democracy and freedom for the Arab World must give the politicians the political cover they need to end their pro-Israel pandering and advocate for a balanced American foreign policy.
Until Arab Americans understand that challenge and begin to change their situation, they will always remain helpless bystanders as the pro-Israel movement steam rolls past.
And as much as Obama, who is expected to become the Democratic Party presidential nominee, has what it takes to be fair on the Palestine-Israel conflict and other Middle East issues of importance to the Arab World, he will not openly move in that direction.
Obama may advocate for justice, fairness and peace in the world, but he will not be able to translate that spirit into advocating justice for both sides in the Palestine-Israel conflict until Arab American voters change their own community first.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and author of the new book “The Catastrophe: The One-State Solution is the No-State Solution.” He is managing editor of the Arab American Writers Syndicate.)
This post has already been read 57 times!
Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.
Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.
Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com
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