Arab Americans rise in politics and polls: Jim Zogby
CHICAGO: Arab Americans have faced decades-long challenges to being recognized as a community, and while several obstacles continue to exist, they are making tangible progress on the political front and in elections, Jim Zogby, President and founder of the Arab American Institute, said Wednesday.
During an interview on The Ray Hanania Radio Show, Zogby explained that while the progress may not seem like it, it is certainly measurable and has resulted in significant changes that have strengthened the Arab-American community.
Zogby noted that Arab Americans now have a national month, April, in which their culture is recognized and celebrated in most states. There is also progress regarding the presence of Arabs in the upcoming US census, despite the persistent slowness on this issue over five decades of activism.
He said the appointment of Hady Amr — by President Joe Biden as deputy assistant secretary of state for Israeli and Palestinian affairs in the department’s Office of Near Eastern Affairs, a year after Biden became president — has opened important doors that move the interests of Arab Americans forward.
“Having Hady Amr as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (as an envoy) is a huge thing. It was inconceivable. This position has always been Jewish. Still Jewish. And now he’s an Arab American,” Zogby said.
“And of course he didn’t change Biden’s policy. He did not change the policy of (Secretary of State Antony) Blinken. But if you look below the surface and see the little things that Hady was able to do that wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t been there, that’s huge.
Amr is one of several dozen Arab Americans to have won senior positions in the White House and the US State Department that put the community “at the table” where decisions are made.
“There are things going on there that wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t been there,” Zogby said.
“I look at the things that Hady was able to do. It’s not great. Not perfect. But if that hadn’t happened, those hospitals in East Jerusalem wouldn’t have received the money. UNRWA would not have had the money. The partnership program would not have gotten the money. There are things he really helped bring about. It’s always better to have someone sitting in the room at the table than not to be in the room at the table.
Zogby has held many high-level positions in the Democratic Party and former Democratic presidents.
In September 2013, President Barack Obama appointed Zogby to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. He was reappointed for a second term in 2015 and ended his service in May 2017 after serving as the agency’s chairman twice.
Zogby was also personally active in American politics as deputy campaign manager and senior adviser to Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign in 1984 and 1988.
In 1988, Zogby led the first-ever debate on Palestinian statehood at that year’s Democratic National Convention held in Atlanta, Georgia. And, in 2000, 2008 and 2016, he served as senior campaign adviser to former Vice President Al Gore, Obama and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Arab Americans, Zogby said, are often restricted by being stereotyped or “restricted” in American society. When they rise to positions of influence, they are often forced to talk only about ‘Arab’ or ‘minority’ issues rather than the larger national issues of public concern.
“When you get a narrowcast, you’re typed. Coupled with the fact that being of Arab descent means that if you have the opportunity to speak out about anything other than that (the Middle East), you are afraid of the ADL or a group that will come after you saying: “Do you know who he is? One of the first breaks I had to do something beyond the narrow scope was (with) the National Italian American Foundation. And (the former executive director) Fred Rotondaro, a great friend of mine, called me back in the early 80s and asked me to co-chair a group that Jeno Paulucci, the guy who founded Jeno’s pizzas, was creating to deal with the ethnic issues across the board, things that affected ethnic immigrant communities,” Zogby recalls.
“And one of them was media stereotypes. Because the Italians have problems with that. We have problems with this. Lots of people do. He asked me to chair the group. The ADL went ballistic (saying): “If you include them, we’ll have nothing to do with you.” Fred stayed by my side, but that was always a problem. If you were in that box, they had you cornered. If you got out of that box, they tried to push you back into that box. It hurt a lot of people. »
Zogby said that despite many decades of efforts to count Arabs in the US census dating back to the 1970s and 1980s, progress is being made. He defended the use of the term “MENA” which stands for Middle East and North Africa rather than “Arab” which is being pushed by Biden for inclusion in the census.
MENA is a broad census definition, but that doesn’t exclude being identified as “Arab,” Zogby insisted.
“That does not mean that we are MENA Americans. Some people clung to that. But this is nonsense. There is no such thing as a MENA American,” Zogby said.
“We decided to create the category on that of Ancestry (in the census). You would ask Ancestry MENA. But then, below, they would say, what country. We would still have an Arabic category, but that would allow Turks, Iranians, maybe also Armenians to be counted. And the Israelis to be counted in there. But that wouldn’t say there was a MENA group. It looks like there is a MENA, simply a rubric under which these unique ethnic groups are counted. So we can still draw a Lebanese number, an Assyrian number. And a Libyan number. But we could also get an Arabic numeral by grouping them all together, which gives us an idea of the number.
Failure to do so, Zogby said, would reduce the census tally by more than 60%, census officials told him.
“Progress,” Zogby said, “often comes in small steps” and the Arab-American community is moving toward greater successes.
Republican activist and former GOP candidate for Michigan Legislature Paul Sophiea also appeared on the radio show, which discussed the challenges Arabs face in the Republican Party.
Sophiea said Arab Americans are traditionally conservative, but the largest populations of Arabs thrive in Democratic Party-dominated areas like Dearborn and Detroit.
The Ray Hanania Show airs live every Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Greater Detroit, including parts of Ohio, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington DC, including parts of Virginia and Maryland. The show reairs Thursdays at 7 a.m. in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Chicago at 12 p.m. on WNWI AM 1080.
You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.