American foreign policy Israel Israel lobby Progressive Jews

Should Arab Americans and Jewish Americans join a new lobby?

Yesterday, Aviva called for a survey of American Jews and American Palestinians, indicating that the voices of the majority in both communities are often not heard. Great idea. What follows is an edited excerpt from a book I’m working on, tentatively titled “A Lobby for the Rest of Us.”   It is followed by another question from me. (Please forgive me in advance for some the odd formatting.  I’m just getting the hang of this and I need to get to my fulltime job, so don’t have time to make it pretty!)  

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 Asked if Israelis have a right to live in a secure and independent state of their own, 95% of American Arabs and 99% of American Jews said yes in a 2003 poll by Zogby International. Similar majorities in both communities also endorse an independent Palestinian state.  Both Arabs and Jews in the U.S. want a freeze on Jewish settlements in the territories and endorse the kind of two-state solution outlined by President Clinton at the end of his second term.  

The obstacles faced by these two groups are not identical, but both are working in communities whose views of political activism are intertwined with insecurities and doubts about their place in American society, according to Rafi Dajani, Executive Director of the DC-based American Task Force on Palestine

We haven’t really come to terms with how to operate in the political system [in the U.S],” Dajani said.  “American Jews feel like they are Americans. Most Arabs feel like they’re somewhere in the middle, not fully American but also not fully connected with their home countries.”

But if Arab Americans get over this queasiness about political activism, he and his colleagues are offering them a potentially important new mechanism to voice support for compromise in the Middle East.

 “It used to be difficult to work with Jewish Americans, even those on the left,’ Dajani said. “During the intifadeh, when Arafat was still around, they had serious doubts about Palestinian intentions. They had problems with Palestinians’ willingness to keep armed struggle as an option.” But now, he indicated,  “there is much more willingness, more open-ness.”

In the past, the Task Force has coordinated positions and even done some joint speaking tours or participated on panels with progressive Jewish groups, including  Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom and, if I’m not mistaken, Ameinu. (someone correct me if I’m wrong, please.)

There is a need for a strategic realignment in both my community and your community,’ he said to me. “The old divisions of Arab vs. Jew, or Arab American vs. Jewish American, we can’t afford those any more.” His dream is a “joint delegation of Arabs and Jews on the Hill.  Or meeting with the Secretary of State. That has never been done before.  It would resonate very powerfully, wouldn’t it?’” 

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So, is this just another pipe dream? Is it possible for Arab Americans and Jewish Americans to work together effectively? Tentative, quiet efforts have been made in the past to make this happen. None of them worked   But the current chatter about a new “alternative” to AIPAC assumes that only dovish American Jews will want to participate.  While the plans I’ve heard are very ambitious, perhaps they need to include like-minded Americans who are not Jewish and don’t have the same connection with Israel as the likes of Americans for Peace Now, Ameinu, etc

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