Arab Americans should expand focus in presidential elections
By Ray Hanania — Once again, Arab American voters are in an election dilemma, stuck between a rock and a hard place as they contemplate whom to support in the presidential elections. Should they follow the lead of other American voters and support the candidates most likely to win the presidential nominations, Democrats Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, or Republicans Mike Huckabee or John McCain? Or, should they follow their conscience, confused by candidates’ doubletalk on the Middle East, and vote for candidates who reflect their views but can’t win? In reality, it doesn’t matter. The Arab American vote is not a vote that will change national elections. But it can be a vote that changes Arab American politics and community dynamics.I am not saying Arab Americans shouldn’t vote or express their views. I am saying Arab Americans should use this presidential election as an opportunity to strengthen their own community voice.Why worry about the issues now being debated angrily in our community? Is Obama is or isn’t sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Will Clinton really order the immediate removal of troops from Iraq, ending the American occupation there? Will McCain launch new wars against Syria and Iran?
When it comes to the Middle East, American politicians are slaves to powers that supercede principle or justice. Every presidential candidate will support Israel and pander to its needs.
They will say things to win pro-Israel votes, for example, that anger Arab Americans.
But that is a part of an election system in which Arab Americans continue to have weak voices, who remain unengaged as a community in the election industry, and who continue to be shut out of their local communities, denied jobs, appointments and even shunned at elections.
Candidates must cater to the demands of the voting constituencies who have mastered the election system.
Presidential candidates all support Israel, but not because the Israeli lobby, the powerful AIPAC, tells them how to vote. They do so because every candidate seeks to preserve support among their voting constituencies and they do not see an alternative in an equally powerful Arab American voter constituency.
The Arab American vote, despite tremendous work by the Arab American Institute (AAI) and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), continues to remain relatively insignificant.
If candidates do not perceive that the American voters want Israel to end its occupation, the candidates will not force Israel to withdraw.
If candidates see that American voters don’t recognize that the violence in the Middle East is really the result of extremists on both sides, rather than the result of Arab or Muslim terrorist groups, then the candidates will only speak to the violence against Israel.
For Arab Americans, the choice is not about which candidate will support Palestine, for example, but rather will they step back from the emotional precipice of these single issues, and instead focus on the bigger picture in which they need to make their voices more resonant?
To make a difference, Arab Americans must empower themselves.
Rejecting a candidate on the basis of one issue is parochial, naïve and self-defeating.
Arab Americans, we are Americans, too. The Middle East is important to us but it is not the only issue. Like all Americans, we have concerns about growing unemployment, the nation’s failed and lobbyist controlled healthcare system, and the poor performance of our educational system.
We may find the positions of some candidates on the Middle East pushing us to anger, but the truth is we cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. We cannot allow emotion and anger to prevent us from engaging the election process with reason.
We should not support a presidential candidate who fails to recognize that healthcare in this country is abysmal and needs to be changed. Nearly 50 million Americans are uninsured and that includes many Arab Americans.
We should not support a candidate who fails to recognize that Americans are being driven into a debtors prison by a credit card industry that has Mafia-like powers to increase interest rates to outrageous levels as high as 30 percent on a whim.
Our educational system is failing to prepare our children to deal with today’s competitive world.
These issues are as important as our views on the Middle East. We are not a one-issue constituency, but when we define ourselves based only on one issue, we can be easily marginalized and ignored by the candidates.
The goal of a candidate is to win office, and they will do that based not on the back of principle and morality but rather by balancing constituency interests.
If the American electorate doesn’t see Israeli policy as an issue, then the candidates will not make it an issue. That means Arab Americans need to work harder to make it an issue not simply for the candidates but for the American public.
However, when the election is over, a president has the power to do almost anything. Voters must look beyond the headlines of the issues.
As best we can, we must look into the heart of the candidates, and select the candidate who embraces the principles we believe must apply to the Middle East. Which candidate is the most compassionate and reasoned when it comes to justice, fairness, principle and morality?
And then, we must step from outside the corner Arab Americans often find themselves painted, and instead vote on the basis of being “Americans.”
We must select a candidate that has the best chance of winning in the larger American election system.
We must weigh their words on the Middle East against the reality of their character.
All of the candidates most likely to win will pander to the power politics of lobbies, money and political organizations.
Until Arab Americans can establish a lobby so powerful we can impact American foreign policy, then we should focus on empowering ourselves. We must organize. We must strengthen our community press, shutting the door to the Middle East media which, for the most part, takes Arab Americans concerns for granted.
We have to show other Americans that we are American and that our concerns go far beyond single-issue controversies.
When the election is over, we must participate in selecting the one candidate most likely to find their courage and do the right thing once they are in office.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and author. Copyright Arab American Writers Group Syndicate, www.ArabWritersGroup.com.)
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"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
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, Hanania 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. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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