Posted by on June 24, 2012 in Blog
Earlier this month, we wrote about a democratic primary in North Jersey between Bill Pascrell and Steve Rothman, in which we noted a new standard for Arab American engagement in the political process. Jim Zogby said Pascrell’s victory was evidence of an Arab American political "coming of age," showing that the community could come out in support of a candidate, get out the vote and help get them elected. That is precisely what the community did in New Jersey's 9th district for Bill Pascrell, and it is exactly why efforts have been mounted to vilify Arab American voters in New Jersey and beyond.
In the months leading up to the primary, several right-wing bloggers attempted to cause a media frenzy aimed at casting a negative light on the Arab American role in the election. Seeing that the community was organizing around this election in a way they never had before, they perpetuated the false notion that Arab Americans were only taking a special interest in the race to thwart the political ambitions of Steve Rothman because of his pro-Israel stance. They also alleged anti-Semitic motives, pointing to pro-Pascrell Arabic campaign posters as their evidence. In an article in the Washington Free Beacon, Author Adam Kredo wrote, "The race took an unprecedented turn on Monday when an Arabic campaign poster supporting Pascrell surfaced." The community largely, and wisely, ignored the allegations and remained focused on achieving their goal. It worked, and Arab Americans came out in record numbers to propel Pascrell to victory.
In reality, Arab American support for Pascrell was hardly a referendum on Rothman's support for Israel. In fact, Israel was hardly even an issue for Arab Americans in this race as indicated by Pascrell's voting record on pro-Israel resolutions and legislation, which is very similar to Rothman's. The assertion that Arabs only voted to knock out the Jewish, Pro-Israel candidate was an attempt to oversimplify, redefine and ascribe sinister intent to Arab American participation in this race. Arab American support for Pascrell was about engagement, and Pascrell courting the community's vote over the course of several years. If any conclusion is to be drawn about the Arab American involvement in this race, it is the community's political "coming of age" Jim Zogby wrote about; it was an inspiring example of the Arab American community's increasing political adeptness.
But even with the primary behind us, attacks on the Arab American community have not stopped. They have morphed into a downright malicious attempt to stomp out the Arab vote by trying to define Arab American motives for voting as being rooted in anti-Semitism. In a video circulating on YouTube, pro-Israel interest group IVoteIsrael.com uses Arab American involvement in Pascrell's victory to rally the pro-Israel crowd to suppress the Arab American vote. The video, again, cites the Arabic campaign poster, attempting to assign negative meaning to it. The very symbol of Arab American voter participation, the Yalla Vote logo, was zeroed in on like a target, yet again, as another example of something sinister. The video concludes with the warning: "Don't let them win."
For Arab Americans, the takeaway from this race will continue to be their "coming of age." Arab Americans have proved that they are a complex constituency and not a single-issue voting bloc. They, like any other constituency in this country, respond to elected officials and candidates who court their vote, and have the political ability to repay them in kind. But Arab Americans also must be conscious of the fact that as we evolve politically, we will be challenged, and there will be efforts to suppress our vote such as the aforementioned YouTube campaign. Arab Americans as a community will have to remain principled and turn the cheek when provoked, because we must not let anyone else define our community for us, especially those who don't want us to vote.