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Published: Tuesday, 10/19/2004

Arab-American leaders back Kerry

BY ANN McFEATTERS
BLADE WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF

WASHINGTON - Arab-American leaders from around the country yesterday endorsed Sen. John Kerry for president, reflecting disappointment with President Bush, who drew a majority of votes from Arab-Americans in 2000.

Jeanne Shaheen, former governor of New Hampshire and co-chairman of the Kerry campaign, took note of the high percentage of Arab-Americans in several battleground states, including Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

"Arab-Americans have the potential to make a difference in this election," she said. "We've seen what has happened to civil liberties under [Vice President Dick] Cheney and [Attorney General] John Ashcroft. John Kerry is committed to the civil liberties of every American."

Disaffection among Arab-Americans set in with Mr. Bush because of the war in Iraq, the rounding up of some Muslims after Sept. 11, 2001, after the Patriot Act was passed, and because of the perceived failure of the Bush administration to pursue peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

Cameron Kerry, a lawyer and brother of the candidate, said he is particularly happy as a Jewish-American to have "so many leaders from the Arab-American community" endorse his brother.

William Shaheen, co-chairman of the New Hampshire Kerry presidential campaign committee and an Arab-American, noted that the Arab-American community backed Mr. Bush in 2000 and now has "a responsibility to elect John Kerry."

With two weeks before the election Nov. 2, he said, "We helped elect President Bush and now we must remove him. The world will be looking at us as Arab-Americans."

Yesterday he told leaders of Arab-American Leadership Councils in the various states, "I don't need you lukewarm. I need you red hot.''

The endorsements were orchestrated by James Zogby, director of the Arab-American Institute. He told The Blade that 100 Arab-American leaders were contacted around the country and agreed to the endorsement and that, while some polls show Mr. Bush with a slight lead nationwide, they think the race is dead even.

Mr. Zogby, whose brother heads Zogby International, the polling firm, said that with the country split down the middle between Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry, governing for the next four years will be difficult for either man.

But he said he and other Arab-American leaders have more confidence in Mr. Kerry to find a way out of Iraq and a path toward Palestinian-Israeli peace than they do in Mr. Bush.

"We'll either have a difficult four years or a very difficult four years,'' he said.

Fay Beydoun, co-chairman of Women for Kerry in Dearborn, Mich., said the Arab-Americans she knows feel strongly that Mr. Kerry is the better candidate on health issues. She said there is a large grass-roots effort going on in her area for Mr. Kerry.

Sarah Shatila, vice president of the Cuyahoga County Young Democrats, said that there is a large effort under way to register and get the 100,000 Arab-Americans in Ohio to the polls. "They could make the difference in this state,'' she said.

The Arab-American vote is 5 percent of the total vote in Michigan, 2 percent in Florida, just under 2 percent in Ohio, and 1.5 percent of Pennsylvania. About a quarter of Arab-Americans are Muslim, a third are Catholic, a third are Orthodox Christian, and the rest have no affiliation.

Contact Ann McFeatters at:

amcfeatters@nationalpress.com or

202-662-7071.



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