US Arab Sanders supporters: Some edge toward Clinton, others loath her

Sanders was hugely popular among Arab Americans especially in Michigan’s Dearborn city, which has the highest concentration of Arabs in the US

Dina al-Shibeeb
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Arab-Americans, who wanted to see Bernie Sanders – an anti-establishment icon – in the White House as their new US president, are now edging toward his party’s nominee Hillary Clinton. There are also those among Bernie supporters whose idea of “anti-establishment” vote is now the Republican candidate Donald Trump.

But those who feel stuck between a rock and a hard place between Clinton, seen as the epitome of establishment with a pro-Israel stance, and Trump, who has long been criticized for being a hatemonger and an Islamophobe, are rejecting “the lesser than the two evil” argument by choosing the US Green Party’s presidential candidate Jill Stein.


“Arab Americans, among the likely voters, are 60 percent voting for Clinton and 26 percent for Trump,” James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), gave Al Arabiya English, his organization’s latest poll figures. AAI, which carries policy research on Arab Americans, expects Stein to get only three percent from these likely Arab American voters and three percent for those who have not decided still.

Sanders was hugely popular among Arab Americans especially in Michigan’s Dearborn city, which has the highest concentration of Arabs in the United States. In Michigan, a northeastern swing state, Sanders, 75, won almost 60 percent of the vote, overcoming rival Clinton, 69.

There was a revolution-like-movement because of Bernie Sanders, but as soon as the democratic nominee was announced, hearts were crushed and hopes, lost

Virgina-based Shahla Shahnawaz has previously campaigned for Sanders, and now is planning to vote for Trump.

Arab Americans saw in Bernie, who has a Jewish background, their best option when he condemned Islamophobia in an hour-long address and most importantly vowed to show partiality and not to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians' rights and statehood has traditionally been a major concern for Arab Americans.

Zogby, who was an avid Sanders’ campaigner and a member of the Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee, is now supporting Clinton, taking a similar stance to that of President Barack Obama and Sanders himself. But the Arab-American scholar on Middle East issues admits that his support for Clinton “is not the same as it was for Bernie.”


“Our poll found out that 20 percent of Clinton supporters are supporting her because they are Democrat,” he said, explaining his reason for supporting Clinton. He added: “Another 20 percent [are voting for her] because they support her domestic agendas, and about a third are supporting her because they are voting against Trump.”

“I think she [Clinton] is tough, smart, qualified to push for democratic agenda, in particular on issues of concern to the broad [Democratic] coalition, which I am a part. I think that is important,” he said, reiterating: “We don’t just vote for candidates; you vote for coalition.”

Zogby calls for more support to the Democrats and its coalition for the protection of “civil rights” and safeguarding of minority groups such as African Americans and Latinos. “All of those groups are horrified by Donald Trump, and they feel very strongly to a Democrat in the White House is the best option.”

“I negotiated with the Clinton people on the [Democrat party’s] platform, and we found compromise language on a great number of issues,” Zogby said. According to him, they were able to insert language on refugees, increase number of refugees and increase rights of undocumented immigrants who are already here and opening the process for protected stay from war-torn areas for Syrians and Iraqis.

Zogby, who has been involved in the Democratic party platform for the past three decades, said he negotiated in this platform to talk about “Palestinian dignity” and the right for Palestinians to govern themselves. However, “we did not get the language we want. We could not get [illegal Israeli] settlement and occupation. But we got more positive language than what we had before,” he added.

Rayyan Najeeb, a Syrian-Palestinian-American healthcare business owner, is opting for Clinton “given Bernie’s endorsement” despite what she described as the continued aid to Israel “at the human rights cost of Palestinian lives” irrespective of who is the next US president.


‘Lesser than the two evil’ rejectionists

Other Sanders supporters beg to differ. Amer Zahr, an adjunct professor at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, who is also a standup comedian, rejects the “lesser evil than Trump” argument, saying “there is no reason to vote” for Clinton.

Instead, Zahr is bucking for Stein. Describing his choice as a “protest vote,” Zahr said: “If you hold a principle that the two-party [Democrat and Republican] monopoly is disenfranchising and fundamentally unfair, then your vote should reflect as much.”

“I am protesting against the corrupt system that has given us Trump and Clinton. Against the system that stifled the Sanders movement,” he said, explaining Sanders loss to “broken, rigged system.” Of a Palestinian origin, Zahr said he cannot vote for Clinton, who repeatedly called Jerusalem, including Eastern Jerusalem – considered future capital for the Palestinian state if recognized - as Israel.

“Most importantly, I cannot set aside the destruction of Palestine and the constant bombing of my greater Arab brethren to help elect a candidate who has pledged to only worsen those two critical situations,” he said.


Lina Eid – an International Affair’s Student and writer for The Odyssey – is also voting for Stein even though she “completely understands that it will merely make a difference.” Like Zahr, Eid criticizes the two-party system, describing it as “no longer functional.”

“I could never simply vote for Hillary because she is considered ‘the lesser of two evils,’” she said, adding “as an Arab-Palestinian, I could never forgive myself for taking part in electing her.”

lina eid
lina eid

From Bernie supporter to Trump backer

American-Pakistani-Bahraini, Shahla Shahnawaz, who has campaigned for Sanders, also rejects the “lesser than the two evils” ratiocinative. But the Virginia-based Shahnawaz is now voting for Trump.

While Shahnawaz “truly believes” Trump is “incapable of being the president” and that “he will end up being impeached or leaving by choice,” the 26-year-old mulls her decision as a possible thunderbolt to “wake up” American Muslims.

She said the shock emanating from Trump being president will help American Muslims and other minorities “to wake up from their passiveness toward politics and finally be involved actively in American politics.”

“Yes, it will be a lot of work, but it is usually during disasters that people unite,” she said. “I am hopeful that Trumps will cause many to unite against Trump.” Calling this year as an “emotional roller coaster” for many American Muslims, Shahnawaz, finds herself “unconvinced” by calls both by Obama and Sanders himself to stand behind Clinton.

Clinton “has the blood of thousands of innocent children on her hand, like her husband Bill Clinton did in Rawanda,” she said. In 1994, during the Rwandan genocide, former President Bill Clinton’s administration pushed for the reduction of the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda from over 2,500 troops to 270.

Shahnawaz also blames Clinton, who was the US Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013, to leading the “destabilization of Iraq, Libya, and several other regions.”

“There was a revolution-like-movement because of Bernie Sanders, but as soon as the democratic nominee was announced, hearts were crushed and hopes, lost,” she lamented, expressing the overwhelming sentiments of Bernie supporters, who touted the slogan “Feel the Burn” in quest to change the status-quo.

(Additional reporting by Ismaeel Naar)

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