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Lieberman worries some Arab Americans


LOS ANGELES, Aug. 16 (JTA) — What Arab Americans most want from the Democratic ticket is some respect for their concerns and their voting power in key states.

In particular, they want reassurances from vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman that his Jewish identity will not tilt U.S. policy more strongly against Arab positions in the Middle East.

“There is a deep concern in our community about how the election of Al Gore and Lieberman would affect the peace process,” said James Zogby, president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute.

Zogby hosted a record 52 Arab American delegates to the Democratic National Convention at a festive “Meet Us at the Casbah” bash Tuesday night.

“The main question we want answered is how Lieberman stands on the Middle East,” said Ismael Ahmed, executive director of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services in the Detroit area, which is home to the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States. “He should meet with our people and clearly explain where he stands.”

Ahmed, a member of the Michigan delegation, has been hearing from members of his community since Gore chose Lieberman as his running mate. Most questions are perplexed or seek guidance, but “not all are reasonable,” he said. Some see a Zionist conspiracy to take over the U.S. government.

Concerns are heightened, said Ahmed, by the perception in his community that Gore would be a more pro-Israel president than President Clinton.

Both Ahmed and Zogby said they have been telling their constituents that what they know about Lieberman is not all bad.

Zogby recalled that the Connecticut senator used his influence to assure that Arab Americans played a larger role during the 1996 convention than they had in previous years.

Last year, Lieberman co-sponsored a bill to assure Egypt of continuing U.S. aid.

There are about 3.5 million Arab Americans in the United States who are keenly aware that they cannot match the clout of the 6 million-strong Jewish community.

As is true for the Jews, Arab voting strength is concentrated in a few key states. Foremost is Michigan, where Arab Americans represent 5 percent of the vote.

In that state, consumer advocate Ralph Nader is receiving 11 percent of the vote, and if enough Arab Americans vote for Nader, the state, crucial to Democratic hopes, will almost certainly go into the Republican column.

Los Angeles radio host Casey Kasem will vote for Nader “not because he is Lebanese American like myself,” he said, but because the Democratic Party is drifting too far to the right.

But Kasem is not worried about Lieberman’s views on the Middle East. “Precisely because he is Jewish, I believe he will be more sensitive about what’s happening in the Middle East,” he said.

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