Learning The Hard Way
-- Bruce S. Ticker
Nearly 80 percent of American Jews did far more to help the Palestinians in 2000 than their Arab brethren in the United States by voting for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman.
Arab Americans who met with George W. Bush in Dearborn, Mich., decided to work for Bush because, they said, they appreciated the concern he expressed about government law enforcement’s unwanted attention of Arab Americans. Never would they help him just because the Democratic vice presidential candidate was Jewish. Sure.
In a sense, the Jewish people got the last laugh. While losing Michigan, Bush won another state inhabited by a sizeable number of Arab Americans. It is known as Florida, where by a technicality he edged out Gore by 537 votes. It is likely that more than enough Arabs voted for Bush to put him over the top. If Arabs here assessed Bush-as-candidate in the way many of us did, they would have concluded that Bush was reckless and could not be trusted. I voted for Gore and Lieberman partly because I assumed they would extend President Clinton’s peace-making efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.
The rest is history. President Bush became Israel’s new best friend and the Arab world’s worst nightmare. He silently assented to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s tactics, right or wrong; invaded and occupied two Muslim countries; and treated Arab citizens more like criminals than could ever be imagined. By the time Bush ran for re-election, the same Arabs who supported him in 2000 despised him in 2004. The Palestinian uprising led to 1,000 Israeli and 3,000 Palestinian deaths.
Cut to the Sestak affair. U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak upset some ardent supporters of Israel by addressing a crowd of 500 on April 7 at a dinner hosted by the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), one of the largest Muslim organizations in the country. Jews who protested Sestak’s appearance claimed that CAIR has ties to terrorism.
The episode left little doubt that Arabs and Muslims are working to maneuver their way into the loop. One of Sestak’s aides, Adeeba Al-Zaman, is the former communications director for Philadelphia’s CAIR chapter. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that she helped him organize support among Muslims last year when he challenged the Republican incumbent, Curt Weldon. She subsequently joined his congressional staff and, without checking with him, accepted CAIR’s speaking invitation in connection with CAIR fundraising efforts.
Arabs and Muslims have every right to seek political influence, but are they acting wisely? Their political activities reinforce fears that Democrats may become too unreliable for supporters of Israel. One can recognize a shrewd strategy in the case of Sestak, who represents portions of Delaware and Chester counties outside Philadelphia. Sestak needed all the help he could get to beat Weldon, and he will need the same degree of help once again should he seek re-election in 2008.
That scene could well have been repeated in swing congressional districts across the country. If Arabs and Muslims help the Democrats stay in power by working for candidates in shaky districts, they will probably expect the Democrats to take their side on the Middle East. Translated, that may well mean selling out Israel.
From my experience, many Arabs and Muslims view the Middle East have an "us against them" mindset that is inevitable and irreconcilable. If they habitually tag Israel as the enemy, how can American Jews possibly engage them?
Arab Americans might want to try engaging American Jews. A President Gore and a Vice President Lieberman, had they continued the Clinton approach, probably would have prevented many of the 4,000 deaths in Israel and its territories, and there might even be a Palestinian state by now. I would bet that a Gore administration would have prevented the Sept. 11 tragedy. Despite Lieberman’s presence in the White House, there would have been no invasion of Iraq unless a genuine rationale was established.
The leadership in the Jewish community often sounds hawkish and defensive, but it does not fully reflect the thinking of most American Jews. Voting patterns clearly contradict pronouncements from the leadership, even if the majority is not publicly vocal on issues.
Arab and Jewish Americans could find common cause if they attempt to talk to each other. Both parties must concede transgressions from either side, but the Arabs in particular must be realistic and understand the skepticism of Israel’s supporters. They must be willing to confront challenging questions: Why did their leaders reject Israel’s offer of an independent state in 2000? How did Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, however provocative, justify a relentless war? What have the Palestinians done with Gaza besides launch rockets into Israel? Where is the peace when Arab terrorists persist in holding three Israeli soldiers?
American Arabs and Muslims learned the hard way that supporting Bush was a disastrous move, a lose-lose result for both Jews and Arabs. A search for common ground with Israel’s supporters could amount to nothing less than a win-win outcome. Just give up on any idea of winner-take-all.
Did you enjoy this article?
- share it with your friends
so they do not miss out on this article,
(free), so you do not miss out on the next issue,
(not quite free but greatly appreciated) to enable us to continue
providing this free service.