Arab Americans must build on electoral progress

Arab Americans must build on electoral progress

Arab Americans must build on electoral progress
As Dearborn mayor, Abdullah Hammoud, who is a Democrat, can exert powerful influence on the party machine’s politics in Michigan. (Detroit News via AP)
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Many Arab Americans believe their empowerment comes from being tied to a political party, either Democratic or Republican. But that is not true. Their empowerment is tied to their independence and they should not blindly follow either party. They should always keep their options open. They have every right to claim party affiliation, but that does not mean they have to support every policy or allow that party to take their vote for granted.
To be successful in American politics, Arab Americans have to accept the fundamental principle that it is not about 100 percent, it is about consensus and compromise. It is not about partisan loyalty, it is about loyalty to principles, the rule of law, justice, and civil and human rights.
Instead of being loyal to one political party, Arab Americans should be loyal to their issues. And they need to work with people who don’t always agree with them on every issue.
American politics is like a game of Monopoly, or even Risk. The goal is to strategically expand influence and control to advance oneself. If politics is a game, then Arab Americans need to learn how to play it. It is not about how we reach our goals, it is about achieving them.
I say this because neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party have ever really embraced Arab American concerns. Neither party is loyal to its core principles, especially when it comes to issues that are of the utmost importance to Arab American voters.
Take the issue of civil and human rights, for example. When it comes to Arabs, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats really care about the core essence of civil and human rights. What they do care about is how an issue benefits their party. And supporting Arab rights does not usually benefit either of them.
As a result of buying into the political party system, Arab Americans have become caught up in the polarization of the country’s politics and have taken sides, often against Donald Trump and in favor of Joe Biden. However, neither of these leaders have really been good to the Arab American community.
While campaigning to be president last year, Biden issued a “Plan for Partnership” with Arab Americans in an attempt to win their support. He went on to appoint about two dozen Arab Americans to middle-ranking government positions, but none in his Cabinet. Those appointees have been immobilized by criticism from the pro-Israel community. And none of them have so far been able to rise to a significant level of leadership or play a major role in molding the administration’s policies. Most have frozen their social media accounts, fearing that pro-Israel activists will uncover controversial past comments that will result in their dismissal.
Is Biden better for the Arab American community than Trump? In rhetoric and tenor maybe, but not in substance.
Arab Americans remain excluded from the US Census, despite claims that we would be treated equally. The last time the Census sent me a form, I refused to fill it in because I know that, no matter how strongly we support something, we will always be marginalized or even excluded.

Instead of being loyal to one political party, members of the community should be loyal to their issues.

Ray Hanania

Several Arab Americans this week ran in elections for various offices at the municipal, county and state levels. There was really only one significant victory, that of Abdullah Hammoud, a Michigan state legislator who became the first Arab to be elected mayor of Dearborn.
Dearborn has come to represent the power base of Arab American politics. As mayor, Hammoud, who is a Democrat, can exert powerful influence on the party machine’s politics in Michigan.
He can use the powers of his office, which are extensive and include access to funding, to forge a new political movement that can spread throughout Michigan, helping more Arab Americans win office in other cities. This movement can spread to the US Conference of Mayors, where Hammoud can build coalitions and make demands that otherwise would not be made.
Hammoud can be a voice for change, adding to those of other principled elected officials like Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American member of Congress, and her non-Arab colleagues, who risk their political futures by standing up for their principles and the rule of law when it comes to Israel and Palestine. Among the most notable non-Arab champions of justice and moral principle are Reps. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, Marie Newman of Illinois, Cori Bush of Missouri, and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin.
There are a total of 31 members of Congress who have stood up to the Israeli lobby to defend Palestinian civilians’ human and civil rights. But there could be more. Many Jewish members of Congress have advocated for justice for both Palestinians and Israelis, and the two groups need to find a way to coalesce and work together, not separately.
If these coalitions were open to supporting other members of Congress based on overlapping interests, while ignoring the areas where they diverge, their voices could be more than twice as loud. They could have 100 members of Congress.
Mayor-elect Hammoud can be a catalyst for this strategy, which has never previously been attempted by Arab Americans.
Build coalitions based on consensus and compromise, not on totality. Don’t put partisan party loyalty above the opportunity to advance our community’s goals. If Arab Americans were to do that, they could easily and quickly transform this country.

• Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at
Twitter: @RayHanania

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view