An Arab American Democrat Calls For a Stand on Common Ground

By James Zogby

Published October 22, 2004, issue of October 22, 2004.
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Eleven years ago we stood together on the White House lawn to witness a historic moment. I, like many of you, will never forget the exhilaration of that day. I remember how both our communities reacted when Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat grasped each other’s extended hand.

We turned to each other both in celebration and relief. We did so not simply because of their handshake or even because of their agreement, the details of which many of us had not yet fully read. We did so because we wanted the conflict to end, not only for the Palestinians and Israelis, but also for ourselves.

Now, of course, the Oslo era is over. The Middle East is once again a tragic battleground maimed by terror and oppression. What I believe remains, though submerged by our respective fears and anger, is the hope that we can once again be joined by a shared vision and brought together as a constituency for peace.

I, however, do not believe that we need to look to the Middle East for leaders there to take the first step.

This summer at the Democratic Convention, I rode on the bus to the Fleet Center with a group of Jewish leaders. We exchanged pleasantries and shared a few memories — but no more. During the convention our communities had our separate events, sometimes in the same venues.

What I thought then and believe now is that we, both of us, can do better. This year’s campaign to elect John Kerry president should have brought us together to change the direction of our country and to end the reckless and neglectful leadership of this ideologically driven Bush administration.

Polls are showing that both our communities strongly support Kerry. They also show that on many issues, including the Middle East, Arab Americans and American Jews share remarkably similar views. And yet, there are campaign strategists and some influential advocates who argue that politics between our two communities is a zero-sum game.

As a result, my community has been frustrated and left wanting. The impact? Polls show Kerry underperforming among Arab American voters in important battleground states.

I am writing now to ask you to join me in telling this “zero-sum” group that they are wrong and that we ought to prove them wrong. A winning Democratic campaign can reach out to both Arab Americans and American Jews.

Just as I know that expressions of concern for Israeli victims of terrorism and commitment of support for Israel’s security do not cost a candidate Arab American votes, I do not believe that compassion for Palestinian suffering and commitment to a Palestinian state will cost Jewish votes.

Similarly, reaching out to you in opposing the Bush administration’s religious right-wing agenda will play well in my community, and defending civil liberties and constitutional rights of immigrant Arabs and Muslims will play well in yours.

By focusing on the common ground we share, we can send a powerful message that we understand what is at stake for our communities, our nation and our world.

Your community, no doubt, holds powerful cards in this election. We, however, have a few to play, as well. If Kerry can win overwhelming majorities in both the Arab American and American Jewish communities, it would make a real difference in key battleground states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. And winning strong majorities in both of our communities would put Kerry in an extraordinarily strong position both to salvage our nation’s eroding position in the Middle East and to lead Israelis and Palestinians to a much needed peace.

With the help of both of us, Democrats and America can win. I invite your response.

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