American Arabs Ponder Super Tuesday and Favor Obama

Ghassan Rubeiz,

February 6, 2008

Pam beach Gardens, Florida

United States’ politics have become intimately tied to Arab politics since the 9/11 events and the start of the ongoing war in Iraq. Sixty one percent of Arab American voters mention Iraq as the top issue in the election. Sixty six percent of Arab American voters also rank “Palestine” very high on their presidential election preference. (Zogby poll, 2007)

There are about 3.5 million Arab Americans. More than half of this community is Christian, and the majority are of Lebanese origin.

Arab Americans are actively involved in the political life of America.

In the past, Arab Americans, especially the more affluent, voted Republican. But currently Arab Americans vote Democratic. Sixty two percent are Democrats and 25 % Republicans. (Zogby poll, 2007). Republican candidates tend to support permanent presence of American troops in the Middle East and are more vocal in support of the Israeli occupation.

In the vote on Super Tuesday, Democrats confirmed two liberal presidential candidates as the front-runner nominees. Hilary Clinton now has 845 delegates (out of 2025 required for winning the nomination) and Barack Obama acquired 765 delegates. On the Republican side, Senator John McCain holds 613 out of the total of 1191 needed delegates; he has a commanding lead over Romney and Huckabee. Ron Paul, the only “dovish” Republican candidate that Arabs tend to support, is likely to soon vanish from the race.

A few days before Super Tuesday, the Arabs took an electronic straw poll, sponsored by Aljazeera. Aljazeera network reports internationally on US elections and educates Arabs about American politics in the Middle East. Aljazeera viewers were asked to vote electronically for their choice for US president. The majority voted for Obama; Ron Paul was the nominee for the Republicans; Obama scored 61% and Paul 10%, a distant second.

There has been no uniformity of sentiment among Arab Americans on the results of Super Tuesday. It is false to assume that this diverse community votes as a block and is guided by one single issue. The majority of Arab Americans are assimilated into American society. The process of integration of minorities in society widens the latitude of their opinions.

“Arab Americans should be greatly encouraged by Tuesday's Democratic primary results,” says Abdeen Jabara, a civil rights attorney and the former President of Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee. Jabara continues, “Senator Obama's credible showing and the number of convention delegates that he garnered demonstrate that he is not only still a serious contender for the nomination, but that his message of change is resonating with large segments of an American public, of which Arab Americans are a part, who are deeply unsatisfied by the status quo and the business-as-usual prescriptions for America's foreign and domestic policy ills. This was a truly historic day and Arab Americans can be proud of the part they played in it.”(email message to author)

Maysoon Haddad, an Iraqi American, is fascinated by Super Tuesday. Her opinion represents many Arab Americans and many people living abroad who are impressed with Americans’ respect for the rule of law in electing politicians: “As an American originally from Iraq, I watch Super Tuesday, admire the system and appreciate the real democracy and hoping to see the same thing happening in Iraq.”

Haddad holds a Republican point of view on the continued military US presence in her home country, Iraq: “I'm looking for a president who supports the war wholeheartedly; a president who doesn't want to rapidly decrease the United States presence in Iraq and who doesn't waiver with public opinion. A quick troop withdrawal is asking for trouble and an exact time line might be too much-- giving away too much to the enemy and allowing them to form a time line to attack our troops or harm other Americans.” (personal commentary to author)

The 300, 000 Arab American community of Dearborn, Michigan, is diverse in politics and ethnicity. M. Kay Siblani, the Executive Director of the Dearborn weekly, The Arab American News, support Obama as her candidate who will overhaul American politics. Siblani says, “Super Tuesday proved that Arab Americans and American Muslims must forge ties with African American voters. They must all work harder together to get Barack Obama elected. Clinton or McCain in the White House would be a disaster for the country and the world.” (email response to author)

In Washington, Subhi Ghandour runs a center for political and cultural dialogue. His electronic newsletter is well respected and has a wide circulation among Arab intellectuals. In a conversation with him about the US elections he explained that Arabs do not have a better choice than Obama “in dealing with the Arab Israeli peace process, ending the Iraq occupation with diplomacy and opening channels of dialogue with Iran and Syria.” Ghandour added that Obama cannot be expected to see the entire world through a Palestine lens, and that “Arab Americans must chose among the existing candidates, even if there is no ideal custom-made candidate to fully suit Arab requirements.”

Arab sentiments on Obama are not at all uniform, especially among Palestinians. The Electronic Intifada, a Palestinian activist website, angrily criticized the senator from Illinois, who “offered not a single word of criticism of Israel, of its relentless settlement and wall construction, of the closures that make life unlivable for millions of Palestinians.” (Arabisto.com)

In contrast, Obama fascinates Jim Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute, an organization promoting Arab American access to mainstream politics. Zogby opines, “It appears from the excitement he generates that Barack has tapped into a deep vein in the contemporary American psyche. While it is always useful to parse out the positions he has taken on critical issues, and even to weigh in the balance the importance of ‘experience’ versus ‘judgment,’ or ‘change’ versus ‘Washington’ - these being the matters discussed by the candidates - they, alone, do not explain the phenomenon we are witnessing. Something more profound is occurring in this election. And it appears to be wrapped up in the person of Barack Obama, himself.” (Huffington Post Dec. 14, 2007).

On Super Tuesday, the midpoint in the race, Obama has come close to matching Clinton’s popularity. Many of his supporters believe that he will gain momentum over the next few months and be chosen as the Democratic candidate to face McCain, his Republican counterpart.

Obama’s Arab-American supporters see that a man with such a diverse international, interfaith, and inter-racial background is bound to make America more inclusive domestically and globally.

For Arab Americans, the 2008 presidential election offers a strategic opportunity to tie America with the Arab world not through war and fear of terror but through ideas and aspirations.
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How about an Obama about-face?

By George S. Hishmeh,

Special to Gulf News
Published: February 07, 2008


The arcane American election process can drive a saint crazy, certainly the average American, "on what could be the most significant night of the 2008 campaign to date."

Recognising this, The New York Times, took the unprecedented step of warning its reader in its lead article on the front page to "brace yourself".

The two leading parties - Democratic and Republican - run in parallel contests, each state selecting delegates who pledge themselves to their favorite candidate at the upcoming national conventions later this year. But these contests are more "than popular vote totals," The New York Times said, "the point of these contests is to allocate delegates to the national conventions".

On Tuesday, there were 43 presidential nominating contests in 24 states yielding a total of 3,156 delegates under these cumbersome rules. Democrats allocate most of their delegates proportionately based on their percentage of the vote that each candidate wins in each state.

But Republicans' delegate selection rules are different. In 8 of the 21 Republican contests, the winner gets all the delegates. Independents are banned from voting in some states, adding to the confusion.

Accordingly, the NYT added, "It is possible to lose a state and still get a majority of the delegates, and it is likely that the losing candidate will still get a substantial share of the delegates," adding "what matters going forward is who gets the most pledged delegates".

This super-complex process is one reason why interest groups play a significant role in the presidential elections, which this year is expected to go to the Democratic Party in the wake of the poor record of the Bush administration, nationally and internationally.

And one group that has figured out prominently in the process is the role of the pro-Israel lobby and various other American Jewish groups. This has been best illustrated in their confused attitude toward Barack Obama, the African-American senator, who poses a serious challenge to Clinton.

Unlike Clinton, whose leanings towards Israel have been evident ever since she was elected senator of New York state, where Jews are 8.4 per cent of the state's population or a little over 1.6 million, Obama has been chastised by the pro-Israel lobby for telling a small gathering in Iowa last March that "nobody's suffering more than the Palestinian people".

This attack, as well as others about his religion, ancestry and middle name, Hussain, prompted the Illinois senator to yield several statements in support of Israel over the last few months.

Obama, the fifth African-American senator in US history and the only one currently serving in the 100-man legislative body, had early on given hope to some Arab-American groups that he can be more forthright than other US politicians and not be intimidated by the pro-Israel abuse. But his ambition has apparently prompted the turnaround in his stance.

Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, a Chicago-based online publication, recalled that he had met with Obama "often at Palestinian and Arab-American community events in Chicago including a May 1998 community fundraiser at which (the late Palestinian-American thinker) Edward Said was the keynote speaker".

In 2000, when Obama ran unsuccessfully for Congress, Abunimah wrote this week that he heard him being "forthright in his criticism of US policy and his call for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict".

At their last meeting four years ago in a Chicago neighborhood, Abunimah recalled Obama telling him "warmly" that he was sorry that "I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race (for his Senate seat).

I'm hoping when things calm down, I can be more up front." And he also urged him to "keep up the good work" at The Chicago Tribune where his column appeared and was "critical of Israeli and US policy".

Obama's about-face is well documented but interestingly it may have not benefited him because several American Jewish organisations and leaders continue to suspect his true feelings.

The "Israeli Index" panel, a team of experts monitoring for the Israeli paper Haaretz, the candidates' positions on issues related to Israel, continues to place Obama at the bottom of the list of the candidates running for election. (The Republican front-runner, John McCain has the highest score, followed by Clinton).

"The panel does not think Obama is hiding more pro-Palestinian tendencies for political reasons," Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz Washington correspondent, writes in his column this week, "but rather takes him at his word". Rosner added, "They also do not believe that he is 'the only candidate' who can bring peace to Israel and Palestine."

The bottom line is that American presidential candidates should not be taken at face value and Arab-Americans should refrain from being one-issue voters.

Most of the candidates' views change once they are in office as was clearly demonstrated by George W. Bush, who is now seen as Israel's "biggest" presidential supporter.


George Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at

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