American Arabs switch sides after Bush speaks out on discrimination

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The Independent US

With middle Eastern politics taking an unusually prominent role in the US presidential election campaign, a majority of Arab Americans are indicating support for George W Bush, the Republican candidate, in a striking switch of allegiances from the election four years ago.

With middle Eastern politics taking an unusually prominent role in the US presidential election campaign, a majority of Arab Americans are indicating support for George W Bush, the Republican candidate, in a striking switch of allegiances from the election four years ago.

A poll published by the Arab American Institute this week showed Mr Bush beating Vice-President Al Gore 40 per cent to 28 per cent, with 15.5 per cent backing Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate who is of Lebanese origin. The pro-business Arab American Political Action Committee, based in the electorally sensitive state of Michigan, also gave a clear endorsement to Mr Bush.

Middle Eastern politics is only one reason for the switch from 1996, when Bill Clinton carried the Arab American vote by a margin of 52 per cent to 34. According to community spokesmen, Mr Bush won points in his first televised debate with Mr Gore by speaking out, unprompted, against anti-Arab discrimination and voicing opposition to the use of secret evidence in immigration trials, a practice that has worked mainly against Arabs and other Muslims deported for unspecified political and security reasons.

On the Arab-Israeli conflict, both parties are generally considered to be disappointingly pro-Israeli. But Mr Gore is perceived to be the more intransigent in his sympathies, partly because of his Jewish running-mate, Joseph Lieberman, and partly because of his team of advisers, which Hussein Ibish, of the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, has described as "some of the most hardline Zionists anywhere".

Numerically, the Arab Americans are not hugely important - they number about 3.5 million, of which roughly two-thirds are eligible to vote. And although they could make a difference in Michigan, where almost half a million of them live, they are unlikely to make much of a dent in the other two states where they are prominent, New York and California, both of which show clear leads for Mr Gore.

Their voice may become influential, however, if the Middle East continues to dominate the headlines.

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