Monday, November 01, 2004

Kerry/ Bush on Israel: Food for thought

(If you are skipping this, then scroll down to take the annual Chayyei Sarah quiz!!!)

Two articles which I hope you will read if you are one of the people voting for Bush because "Bush is better for Israel." I realize that at this point people have made up their minds. But I want people to remember that there are reasonable people who have reasonable evidence that American policy on Israel will not change, regardless of who wins.

No one can tell the future. We have to vote based on the facts we have and the best judgement calls we can make with that information.

If you believe, as I do, that Kerry is not any worse for Israel than Bush is (and, I might add, there are those of us who live in Israel who don't think that the Bush policy of "hands off" is necessarily constructive), then it frees one to vote for the person whose policies on other issues are more in line with one's own.

Anyhow, here is some reading for you . . .

1. From today's New York Times (requires free registration)

2. From the Haaretz Anglo File section of a few weeks ago (requires paid registration; I'll reproduce it here). Notice that there are quotes in here that could be used by either side to support their views about Kerry/Bush:

Palestinian-Americans largely ignore upcoming U.S.elections
Daphna Berman
Sam Bahour has already requested an absentee ballot for the U.S. presidential elections, but as a member of the Palestinian-American community based largely in Ramallah, he's certainly in the minority. "There's an indifference about the outcome of the [U.S.] presidential election that's hard to explain," he said this week of the widespread voting malaise that seems to have struck a large number of Palestinian Americans living in the West Bank and Gaza. "In the past, we used to have registration drives, and citizen services [from the American consulate in Jerusalem] would come out, but this year, I've heard none of that." According to Bahour, a prominent Palestinian-American businessman who moved to the West Bank in 1995 to spearhead the privatization of the Palestinian telecommunications industry, the disinterest around him is based on a larger belief that neither candidate really addresses the needs of his community. "The gap between the two isn't wide enough that it will make a difference for the Palestinians," he explains. "People feel like it doesn't even matter. I have friends who go back between here and the States and when I ask who they're voting for, they act as if we're in a non-election year." For members of this large, but somewhat politically overlooked community of Palestinian-Americans, the upcoming elections don't seem to be making the splash that they have made among Israeli-Americans. Jewish Americans living in Israel have registered for absentee ballots in unprecedented numbers and organizations like the Association of Americans and Canadian in Israel (AACI) have hosted regular events encouraging Americans here to take part in the election process. Both Republicans Abroad in Israel and Democrats Abroad in Israel have revitalized their efforts in recent months and have hosted a number of registration drives across the country. But as members of the American consulate in Jerusalem confirm, the excitement and energy among Americans in Israel just haven't transferred to their Palestinian neighbors. "Palestinians haven't been as active as the Israeli side," Stuart Patt, chief of the Consular Section at the Jerusalem consulate said this week. "There have been Palestinian-Americans coming in to request forms, but most of the forms go through [local Israeli branches of] the Republicans and the Democrats or the AACI." The number of Palestinian-Americans living in the West Bank and Gaza is difficult to estimate, though Dr. Hazim Arafat, a volunteer with the Palestinian-American Society in Ramallah says that a survey done four years ago found an estimated 5,000 families with dual citizenship, with an average of four eligible voters per family. American officials estimate that some 30,000 Americans live in the West Bank, but that number includes American Jews living in the settlements. And so, while the number of Palestinian-Americans in the territories may pale in comparison to the estimated 100,000 eligible American voters living in Israel, it remains a strong and significant voting bloc, which its members say shouldn't be taken lightly. Still, neither of the major parties has even attempted to target this pool of potential absentee voters. The Democrats would be a logical alternative for a community that sees ousting Bush as a top priority, but Mark Zober, chair of Democrats Abroad in Israel said that his organization has yet to plan voting drives in the West Bank for potential Kerry supporters. The Republicans haven't targeted Palestinian-Americans in the territories either, and though Joan Hills, co-chair of Republicans Abroad, admitted this week from Washington D.C. that it would be a "good idea" to target local Palestinian-Americans, the organization's Israel branch has a Web site with Arafat quoted as calling Bush "the worst U.S. president" and a statement by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hailing the incumbent president as "Israel's best friend in the White House." "The most important point on our agenda is to get an administration change," said Akram Baker, a Palestinian-American human resources consultant based throughout the Middle East, "and the Democrats should be doing more to bring Palestinian and Arab-Americans to their side." According to Baker, though, a large portion of the local Palestinian-American vote will go to Ralph Nader, an American politician of Lebanese origin who is running on an independent ticket and supports the Palestinian right of return. "Most people aren't interested in voting because they don't see a difference between Bush and Kerry, but those who do care to vote will vote Nader," Shawqi Issa, a human rights lawyer in Bethlehem, predicted. Issa, who holds dual citizenship, sent his American-born wife to the consulate in Jerusalem because his American passport doesn't help him navigate checkpoints given his Palestinian ID card, he says. "If my wife didn't go for us, we wouldn't have had the proper voting papers," the Nader supporter added, obviously unaware, like many in his community, of the possibility to download the proper forms off the internet. Other leading figures in the community confirmed that Nader was in fact the candidate of choice among voting Palestinians who refuse to support either major candidate, and even Bahour, who will probably vote for Kerry as a protest against Bush, says that he would "vote his conscience" and choose Nader if Kerry was pulling ahead in the polls so drastically that Bush had no chance for re-election. The decision on behalf of the Democrats and Republicans to categorically overlook Palestinian-Americans is frustrating, Bahour adds, but not more so than his own community's voter apathy and reluctance to mobilize a grassroots registration effort. "I can't complain that campaigns don't address us as a community," he says, "if we, as a community, don't become more active."
Publication date - 10/09/04
© Copyright 2004 Ha`aretz. All rights reserved

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