Arab Americans come around to supporting Clinton
Philadelphia - As the Democratic Party nominated Hillary Clinton for president at its convention in Philadelphia, Arab and Muslim Americans faced the dilemma of whether to support a nominee they voted against in primaries a few months earlier.
Arab Americans were vocal and visible inside and outside the venue for the four-day Democratic National Convention. There were pro- Palestine banners, kaffiyehs and a robust presence in the arena and the protests outside.
In light of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States, the Arab-American and Muslim communities have a lot at stake in the November election.
Their votes are expected to play significant roles in states such as Michigan, Virginia and Florida where there are large Arab and Muslim populations and likely to be major battlegrounds between Clinton and Trump.
James Zogby, head of the Washington-based Arab American Institute and an adviser to Bernie Sanders, said he was disappointed the more pro-Palestinian Clinton rival had failed to win the presidential nomination but he had no doubt that “even on a very bad day, Hillary is thousands of times better than Trump”.
“I might disagree with the Hillary campaign on key issues, Donald Trump is like cancer in the American body politic and he will destroy it,” Zogby said. Trump, he said, “has already inflicted plenty of damage, unleashed hate and validated a bigoted rhetoric that was not in the public before”. Zogby sees in him a “dangerous showman feeding the beast to win votes”.
Voting for Clinton as the anti- Trump candidate is an argument that resonates among many Arab and Muslim activists, some of whom still support Sanders and have disagreements with Clinton on issues ranging from the Israeli occupation to social justice.
Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York and who helped drive community support for Sanders, said: “It is irresponsible to vote for a third-party candidate if you live in a swing state” — where Clinton and Trump are in close competition.
Sarsour said defeating Trump is the ultimate priority in this election. “If you don’t live in a swing state, vote for whoever you want, but if you are in a swing state, you have a responsibility not to put us under a fascist demagogue,” she said.
Zogby said the fight for a more progressive Democratic Party has just begun. While acknowledging that the Democratic National Committee platform “did not move the needle much on Israel and Palestine, it is more progressive and better than the previous ones”.
Zogby, who was on the platform committee as a Sanders delegate, said: “This is the first time that Palestinians are talked about on their own, as opposed to [in terms of] what Israel needs and requires.”
He added that for the first time there is “talk about dignity and the needs of the Palestinians — this is a big deal and the constituency is changing, especially among the young base of the party”.
Zogby said he was able to insert language in the platform in support of Jordan and Lebanon on issues related to refugees and state institutions. He lamented that support for the boycott movement against Israel was not included in the platform but, he said, “our job is to follow up”.
Sarsour said she was disappointed that the term “Israeli occupation” was not included in the platform and warned that the Democratic Party “is failing in keeping up with the base to move forward”.
Some Syrian-American activists in Philadelphia have been passionate supporters of Clinton all along. Kenan Rahmani said the former secretary of State is a voice that condemned the Syria President Bashar regime’s brutality from the beginning of the uprising in 2011.