Congress Watch: As November Elections Approach, Arab Americans Poised to Exert Their Influence

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CONGRESS WATCH: As November Elections Approach, Arab Americans Poised to Exert Their Influence

With the presidential candidates already determined (barring some surprise), Arab Americans are turning their attention from the primary campaigns to the fall elections, and to having an influence over the parties' platforms to be established this summer. In the meantime, there has been some congressional movement on other issues affecting the Middle East.

"CAMPAIGN 2000" PROVIDES FOCAL POINT FOR PARTICIPATION

Immediately after the 1998 elections, Arab American Institute (AAI) president James Zogby announced the formation of "Campaign 2000" to mobilize Arab American participation in the 2000 presidential and congressional elections. Throughout 1999 the campaign concentrated on the four basic goals of voter registration, issue development, engaging the presidential campaigns, and mobilizing the Arab-American community. For 2000, these goals have not changed, but the focus is changing from the primaries to the party conventions and the November elections. Zogby says, "The key to any election campaign is getting out the vote and education." And education works both ways -- educating the Arab-American community about the candidates' positions on issues of importance, and making sure the candidates understand the priorities of the community.

To determine the issue priorities, the AAI polled the community and developed an "Arab American Action Platform," consisting of four civil rights issues and four Middle East issues. The civil rights issues are promoting and protecting full inclusion of Arab Americans in U.S. politics; ending discriminatory practices such as airport passenger profiling; ending the use of secret evidence by the INS; and calling for a just U.S. immigration policy. In the Middle East, the action platform calls for greater balance by the U.S. in the peace process and calls for a comprehensive peace with justice between Israel and Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine; recognizes the claim of both Palestinians and Israelis to a shared Jerusalem; urges the delinking of economic from military sanctions and ending the economic sanctions against the Iraqi people; and urges the encouragement and strengthening of U.S. ties with allies in the Arab world.

Clearly, the centerpiece of the campaign has been a series of "town meetings" to meet the presidential and congressional candidates or their representatives, discuss the issues, and mobilize the community to participate as delegates to the conventions and to vote in November. So far, 10 town meetings have been held, three in California, two in Michigan, and one each in Iowa, Texas, Ohio, Virginia, and Illinois. Four more are being planned, in Virginia again, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New York. Zogby was enthusiastic about the response from the presidential campaigns to the meetings, saying that all four of the major campaigns had "a significant debate" on the issues of interest to Arab Americans. Furthermore, he is confident that there will be between 80 and 100 Arab-American delegates to the Democratic and Republican conventions.

Polling shows that "Arab Americans are highly motivated swing voters -- not locked into any party, but vote according to their issues and concerns," according to Zogby. In a January poll conducted by the nationally known polling firm of John Zogby International (James Zogby's brother), almost 90 percent of Arab-American registered voters indicated a readiness to vote this year, second only to American Jews (at 95 percent) among the six groups polled. Furthermore, while slightly more Arab Americans classified themselves as Democrats than Republicans (38 percent to 35.5 percent), in the same poll they favored George Bush over Al Gore by 46.5 percent to 33.5 percent. Among the groups polled, only Arab Americans and Italian Americans showed such a strong swing-vote tendency.

ISSA NOMINATED IN CALIFORNIA

However, Zogby is quick to point out that the Campaign 2000 effort is about more than just the presidential election. …