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Kerry repels Arab voters

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    Kerry s support for Israel repels Arab voters By Ashraf Fahim Special to The Daily Star Tuesday, June 01, 2004 http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 3, 2004
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      Kerry's support for Israel repels Arab voters

      By Ashraf Fahim
      Special to The Daily Star
      Tuesday, June 01, 2004


      http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?
      edition_id=10&categ_id=2&article_id=4729

      NEW YORK: The battle for the hearts and minds of Arab-American voters
      has taken a decidedly negative turn for presumptive Democratic
      presidential nominee, Senator John Kerry.

      A raft of statements by Kerry lauding President George W. Bush's
      unequivocal support of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has
      alienated some in a community that, though relatively small, is
      strategically situated in certain states expected to be closely
      contested in the November election.

      Kerry has recently endorsed Sharon's Gaza disengagement plan as well
      as Bush's April 14 commitment to Sharon, acquiescing to Israel's
      retention of large West Bank settlements, and the denial of
      Palestinian refugees' right of return. Previously, Kerry has
      expressed support for Israel's assassinations of Palestinian leaders,
      the construction of its separation barrier and the isolation of
      Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

      Kerry has only been too willing to criticize Bush for his "lack of
      engagement" in the peace process, and failure to dispatch a high-
      level mediator to the region, something the senator says he would do
      immediately upon assuming office.

      While there is widespread dissatisfaction with the Bush
      administration among Arab-Americans on issues like Iraq and civil
      liberties, Kerry's support for Sharon is leading some to draw back
      from him for the time being.

      New York resident Sarab al-Jijakli says that although most Arab-
      Americans oppose Bush's policies, Kerry has not yet provided "clear
      leadership" on Palestine or Iraq. "Why should Arabs vote for Kerry?"
      he asks. "Just because he's not Bush?"

      The relatively small Arab-American community - estimated at 3.5
      million - has gained prominence beyond its numbers due to its
      generally high voter turnout and preponderance in
      several "battleground" states - notably Michigan.

      A majority of Arab-Americans voted for Bush in 2000,

      partly due to a perception that, like his father, he would be
      relatively evenhanded on the Arab-Israeli issue.

      But, polls now give Kerry a double-digit lead over Bush, with a large
      number undecided or leaning toward independent candidate Ralph Nader,
      who many supported in 2000 and who is of Lebanese descent.

      Judge William Shaheen, the head of the Kerry campaign in New
      Hampshire, is the senator's unofficial liaison with the Arab-American
      community and the husband of former New Hampshire governor Jeanne
      Shaheen, Kerry's national campaign chair. Judge Shaheen is adamant
      that a Kerry presidency would offer hope on Palestine.

      It would bring "a breath of fresh air" to the peace process Shaheen
      told The Daily Star.

      Shaheen maintains that Kerry's individual positions are less
      important than his willingness to mediate. According to Shaheen, the
      real problem is "that we have a president who's not engaged in the
      peace process.

      "Can you imagine any worse scenario for the Arabs, for the
      Palestinians, to do four more years of what we've just had?" he
      asks. "I think the only chance they have is to support Kerry. And to
      have faith that he wants to be a great president, and great
      president's bring peace."

      Many Arab-Americans have faith that, although it is perhaps the
      lesser of two evils, a Kerry presidency offers some hope.

      "It's hard to get a president into office who's evenhanded on
      Palestine," says Philadelphia resident Ribhi Mustafa, "but the
      Democrats do tend to work a little bit harder for peace."

      Long-time observers of the Arab-Israeli conflict like Henry Siegman,
      the director of the Council on Foreign Relations' US/Middle East
      project, are skeptical of Kerry's approach.

      Applauding the Bush administration's policies while simply offering
      to send a high-level envoy is "meaningless," says Siegman, "because
      emissaries mean nothing unless they are emissaries with a mandate to
      implement a new policy."

      Siegman underlines, however, that presidential hopefuls walk on
      eggshells when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian issue for fear of
      alienating the pro-Israel constituency. Therefore, he says: "One
      cannot take seriously anything Kerry says about the Israeli-
      Palestinian conflict."

      Kerry's recently expressed views have been a letdown to community
      leaders like James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute
      (AAI), who is in close contact with the Kerry campaign. At an AAI
      conference in October, Kerry had won plaudits for labeling Israel's
      separation barrier "provocative and counter-productive." But he has
      since called it a "legitimate act of self-defense."

      Zogby says that Kerry's views on Israeli-Palestinian issues risk
      alienating those for whom that issue is paramount. "There is a
      significant portion of the community - about 30 percent - that is not
      convinced that there is a fundamental difference (between Bush and
      Kerry) on this issue," he says, "which is a critical issue that they
      care a great deal about, maybe to the exclusion of others."

      A poll commissioned by the AAI in late April in four battleground
      states that have sizeable Arab-American populations - Florida,
      Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio - found that while Kerry leads Bush
      by 45 to 28 percent, the remainder intend to vote for Nader or are
      undecided.

      The number of Arab-American voters in those states - 510,000 - is
      approximately equivalent to the combined margin of victory in all
      four in 2000. Some 170,000 of those votes are still up for grabs,
      says Zogby, and convincing undecided voters to support Kerry hinges
      on his stance on Palestine.

      Charlie Cook, editor of the Cook Political Report, says the Kerry
      campaign is simply deferring to Jewish supporters, who provide
      significant funding for the Democratic party. And Jewish voters are
      turning to Bush in unprecedented numbers because of his pro-Israel
      policies, he says.

      "There's no question that President Bush is going to get a bigger
      percentage of the Jewish vote than Republicans normally get, and
      maybe than a Republican has ever gotten," says Cook. Kerry's
      campaigns are "just trying to cut their losses."

      Still, Zogby has not given up hope that Kerry's position could evolve
      to win over wavering Arab-Americans.

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