Not for the love of Kerry
Arab and Muslim Americans are expected to vote overwhelmingly for Kerry, basically to drop Bush. Khaled Dawoud reports from Washington
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Charismatic former US President Bill Clinton, right, making his first appearance since his heart surgery joins Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry at a campaign rally in Philadelphia
Observers in the Arab world noted with concern the absence at the United States presidential debates of a serious discussion on what the candidates would do to revive the stalled Middle East peace process.
"Supporting Israel is a cornerstone of US foreign policy for any candidate, whether Republican or Democrat," said Ziad Assali, director of an Arab-American think- tank, the American Task Force on Palestine.
Assali considers the absence of any serious discussion on the Middle East peace process between US President George W Bush and John Kerry a "blessing", noting that "during one of the closest ever contested elections in recent US history, the two candidates are unable to offer anything but strong support for Israel, mainly because at this stage they cannot dare provoke the anger of the Jewish lobby."
"Nothing else should be expected in an American election season," said Assali, who backs Kerry. For him, "the difference between the two candidates is that Bush spent four years in the White House backing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and offering Palestinians hollow promises. Kerry, on the other hand, has announced that one of his top priorities would be to revive peace talks between Israel and Palestinians."
For Arab-American voters domestic issues may be as important as foreign affairs, if not more so. Since 9/11 , Arab-Americans have suffered many civil and human rights violations in the wake of the infamous US Patriot Act.
Although Muslim Americans have historically been closer to the Republican Party, mainly in appreciation of its conservative stand on moral and social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, leaders of the Muslim American community announced at a news conference early this week that they have decided to back Kerry this time around.
"That's a significant change," said Sobhi Ghandour, an Arab- American activist and director of the Arab Dialogue Center. In 2000, Bush won the support of nearly 80 per cent of Muslim American voters, and this shift could make a difference in a number of swing states, where the competition is toughest between Bush and Kerry.
Recent opinion polls have also shown an overwhelming support among Arab-Americans for Kerry. However, 50 per cent of Arab- Americans questioned in last week's poll by Zogby International admitted that they would vote for Kerry, not because they fully agreed with his policies, but with the aim of ousting Bush from the White House.
For them the Iraq war, Bush's total bias towards Sharon -- whom he once described as "a man of peace" -- and the violations of many of their civil and political rights since 9/11 were all crucial factors in determining their stand against Bush.
Speaking in the name of a number of the largest Arab-American organisations, who announced this week they would back Kerry, James Zogby said that John Kerry will definitely pursue diplomacy over unilateral military preemption.
"[Kerry] can be better trusted to find a way out of Iraq. [He] will protect our civil liberties and end the abuses of the Ashcroft era, and whatever differences we may have, we know that John Kerry ... will make the pursuit of an Israeli- Palestinian peace a priority rather than a neglected afterthought."
Alaa Bayoumi, a spokesperson for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), said that some groups will vote for independent candidate, Ralph Nader as a form of protest since Nader's candidacy is at this time clearly symbolic.
The decision by Arab and Muslim US organisations to back Kerry signals their desire to play a more active role in politics, particularly after 9/11. Concentrated in several swing states -- those most closely contested between the two candidates such as Michigan, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- Arab-American organisations hope that turning out in bigger numbers on election day and voting Democrat may ultimately effect some change.