Saturday, July 24, 2004

Arab & Muslims sweat out elections July 23, 2004


By Ray Hanania

The way President George W. Bush has been steamrolling over Arab rights issues, you'd think the presidential election would be an easy choice for Arab- and Muslim-American voters.

It's not.

Some may waste a vote on Ralph Nader, the self-promoting spoiler who helped weaken Al Gore's candidacy four years ago against Bush and who is spoiling to do the same this November. But at what point do Arab and Muslim Americans decide they have had enough of throwing away their votes?

The fact is, Bush may be very anti-Arab, but so is his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry. And while Vice President Dick Cheney is the right-wing conservative driving the Bush Middle East agenda, it turns out John Edwards isn't too far behind policy-wise.

Once again, America's presidential election will not be about which candidates support Israel, but rather, which candidate supports Israel more. Yet, when I look at the two slates, I do see differences.

Politicians say and do anything to win elections. Kerry began on what looked like a slightly different position from Bush when he addressed Arab Americans last year. Kerry expressed concerns about the wall, which Israel calls a "fence" and the timid American media refers to as "the barrier."

Kerry quickly did an about-face and declared unequivocal support for the "fence" a few weeks later. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful lobbying organization in the country, must have beat the bejesus out of Kerry. Politically speaking, of course.

Kerry has declared that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat should be isolated even more. And, he has declared that Palestinians have no right of return to lands taken from them by Israel in 1948. Kerry also believes the larger settlements are "new realities" that Israel should be allowed to keep in any final peace agreement.

What's the point of negotiating?

Edwards has also taken a hard-right turn on the Middle East. He doesn't believe Israel should be pressured on issues like the illegal settlements -- a long-standing American policy until Bush came to power.

But Edwards also believes "Israel's very existence is threatened." Certainly, the conservative demands Israel is making to absorb the lands occupied in 1967 might be threatened, but Israel, which is the only Middle East nation with nuclear weapons -- more than 300 at last count -- is far from being threatened by anyone.

But this could all just be campaign rhetoric. What do you expect Kerry and Edwards to say when the Arab and Muslim community has marginalized itself by failing to forcefully denounce Islamic extremism?

While there are many Arab organizations, few have effective public relations strategies and therefore have no public influence beyond their own constituencies. Fanatics have taken over much of the mainstream Islamic movement in America.

Arab and Muslim organizations fight as hard against their own people as they do trying to convince Americans about the wrongs of Israel. Actually, they fight harder against their own people. And, they are notoriously prone to back-stabbing and self-destruction. Given a choice, Kerry and Edwards probably figure no matter how large a consituency Arabs and Muslims claim to be in America -- the numbers are usually exaggerated to excess -- they are better off pandering to Jewish voters.

At least Jewish voters are able to overcome natural political differences and come together to support Israel. The word "consensus" doesn't exist in the Arab or Muslim vocabulary. It's either all or nothing, and it usually ends up being nothing.

A key race is Florida, of course, where Gore lost the election. It has a large Jewish-American voter population. Jewish Americans, unlike Arab and Muslim Americans, vote.

The only hope for Arabs and Muslims is that after the election, Kerry and Edwards might support moderation rather than extreme pro-Israel views. For me, the hope that Kerry and Edwards will change is far better than the certainty that Bush and Cheney can't.

To find out more about Ray Hanania, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at
Originally Published on Friday July 23, 2004

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