Arab-American group decries `Arab-baiting' in 1986 elections. Says Arab Americans cannot fully participate in US politics
Washington — A Washington-based, Arab-American group has charged that at least 10 political candidates in last year's United States elections used anti-Arab prejudice and stereotypes as a means to garner support or raise campaign funds from pro-Israel Jewish organizations. In a report issued last week, the Arab American Institute denounces what it calls ``Arab-baiting.'' It also decries reported demands by Jewish groups that US political candidates sign pro-Israel ``loyalty oaths.''
The study concludes: ``At stake is not only the ability of the United States to conduct a balanced foreign policy in the Middle East, but, more important, the rights of Americans to freely participate in the electoral system.''
The report examines episodes in five congressional races, two Senate campaigns, two state races, and a local election in California.
``Our basic concern,'' says James Zogby, a co-author of the report, ``is the involvement of people of Arab descent in the electoral process free of tarnish and taint.''
Officials with major Jewish organizations say the report is an attempt by pro-Arab groups to erode US support for Israel. ``What many of these groups have been trying to do for a long time is to penetrate the American political system to try to break that close link beween the US and Israel,'' says Kenneth Jacobson of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith.
A spokeswoman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the largest pro-Israel lobby in the US, says: ``Groups like the Arab American Institute are organized to conduct anti-Israel rather than pro-Arab activity.''
Mr. Zogby says his group's intent is to promote an increased role for Arab Americans in US electoral politics and to encourage a ``free and open debate in the US on Middle Eastern affairs.''
Zogby says that US policy toward Israel has become a required litmus test in many American political campaigns, even at the local level. Candidates are increasingly being asked in detail their position on US aid to Israel and their views on the Palestine Liberation Organization. Zogby says that if an answer is not pro-Israeli enough, a candidate may be targeted for defeat by pro-Israeli political action committees.
The report says that in some cases congressional candidates were asked to sign written statements pledging strong support for Israel, and opposing negotiations with the PLO.
Zogby says that some candidates and politicians are responsive to the requests of pro-Israeli groups because of a fear that a lack of cooperation might sidetrack a political career. ``It is a real perception,'' he says.
At least two congressional candidates in 1986 - Joseph Kennedy of Massachusetts and Robert Neall of Maryland - refused to accept campaign contributions from Arab Americans, according to the report. ``The pro-Israel community has raised Arab-American financial support to the level of taboo,'' the report says.
Officials at major Jewish organizations maintain that there is nothing improper about pro-Israel election activities. They say that a candidate's position on Israel is of prime concern to Jewish voters and that they are providing a better understanding of where prospective government leaders stand on key issues.
Mr. Jacobson of the Anti-Defamation League says, ``I think they are trying to make people feel guilty about discussing pro-Israeli policies so that if you raise the subject you are almost in the area of bigotry. I don't think it will succeed.''
One case cited in the Zogby report is the campaign of Faye Williams, who narrowly lost her bid last fall to become the first black member of Congress from Louisiana. According to the report, Ms. Williams's campaign suffered a setback after it was disclosed that her campaign manager had been born in the Arab state of Jordan.
The report says that Williams received a mailgram from Sheldon Beychok, head of a local pro-Israel political affairs committee called Louisianans for American Security. Mr. Beychok asked Williams to forward information about the campaign manager's background to him because ``it has been alleged he is a Palestinian Arab.''
The report says that Beychok was informed that the campaign manager was an American citizen who had been born in Jordan. He was also informed that Williams was a strong supporter of Israel.
But Beychok subsequently initiated a mailing campaign asking voters to publicly withdraw their support for Williams because ``she is a PLO sympathizer.''
In a telephone interview, Beychok says the ethnicity of Williams' campaign manager did not play a role in his rejection of Williams' candidacy. He says his characterization of Williams as a PLO sympathizer is based on her view of Mideast issues. ``Basically, Ms. Williams told us that she was distressed at our characterization of the PLO as a terrorist organization,'' Beychok says. ``For that reason, I did whatever I could to oppose her.''