WASHINGTON, Oct. 11 (JTA) – The Democratic presidential campaign’s choice of a prominent Arab American leader as a new adviser may show the growing importance of the Arab American community in the domestic political landscape, but it is also causing concern among some Jewish groups.
James Zogby, who has made some controversial statements on Israel, is now serving as an adviser on ethnic affairs to the Gore-Lieberman campaign and will work on outreach to different ethnic communities.
An adviser on ethnic outreach for the Democratic Party for several years, Zogby will not have a policy-making role in the campaign, said Dagoberto Vega, the deputy national spokesman for the Gore-Lieberman campaign.
Vice President Al Gore, in announcing Zogby’s selection earlier this month, said Zogby has been instrumental in mainstreaming Arab Americans into the political process.
Zogby is a chairman of the National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Council, where he works to build liaisons between the party and Arab, Irish, Italian, Polish and Armenian Americans.
Zogby told JTA that he will work to bring the concerns of ethnic Americans to the campaign.
Vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman in particular, he said, “talks the ethnic immigrant talk” and connects to the urban ethnic voters that form a “defining constituency.”
But some Jewish groups are protesting the appointment of Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, an organization formed in 1985 to represent his community’s interests in government and politics.
The Republican Jewish Coalition called Zogby’s appointment to the Gore-Lieberman campaign an “outrage.”
Zogby “is the lead American spokesman for some of the worst forms of Middle East Arab propaganda,” the group said.
The Zionist Organization of America referred to Zogby as an “extremist” in his comments about Israel and the Middle East over the years.
As far as allegations from Jewish groups, Zogby says many of his statements have been taken out of context and his positions on the Middle East are irrelevant to his work on the campaign.
Last week, the institute was listed on a statement that called for all U.S. aid to Israel to be cut off because of the “Israeli aggression against civilians” in recent weeks. The statement, apparently sponsored by a number of leading Arab and Muslim groups, also asked the U.S. government to demand that Israeli forces withdraw from Palestinian cities and holy sites.
Zogby, in his interview with JTA, distanced himself from the statement, saying the institute never signed on and he does not know why the group’s name was attached to it.
Zogby has written in the past about how race and ethnicity should not be used as a measure of character or competence especially with regard to policy-making. He has also noted the positive interaction between Arab and Jewish groups.
“Arab Americans have developed strong working relationships with some American Jews who have been firmly committed to fairness and to building a just and lasting peace in the Middle East,” he once wrote.
Zogby has pushed the Clinton administration to appoint more Arab Americans to posts at the State Department and White House but only, he has said, as a matter of balance and fairness.
His son, Joseph, was a State Department aide who resigned after coming under fire for criticizing Israel.
At least one group said they were not upset by the appointment and defended Zogby’s record.
“He has been courageously outspoken in his support for the peace process,” said Tom Smerling, executive director of the Israel Policy Forum.