x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

US elections: Democrats find their voice

After a long Republican primary featuring endless attacks on President Obama and a Republican national convention portraying his administration as a failure, some Democrats had become a bit demoralized.

On Sunday, a few Democratic spokespeople sputtered and stammered answering the question, "Are we better off then we were four years ago?" At the opening session of the party's national convention, each successive speaker was more decisive than the last, answering resoundingly, "Hell, yes!"

Listening to Democrats last night it became clear that they have found their voice. After a long Republican primary featuring endless attacks on President Obama and a Republican national convention portraying his administration as a failure, some Democrats had become a bit demoralized.

They know that millions of Americans are still without work and that real difficulties remain. But last night they heard personal stories and political speeches establishing just how much has been done and just how committed President Obama is to completing the job.

By far the most compelling testimony of the night came from Michelle Obama. She delivered a personal and yet pointedly political address that wove together reflections on her and her husband's values with the political commitments that reflect those values. For many Democrats, Michelle sealed the deal and provided the inspiration and firepower needed to make this first night a success.

For those who thought that Democrats might have difficulty getting back the energy they had in 2008, last night told a different story.

Earlier in the day, another group of Democrats also found their energy as Arab Americans and Jewish Americans co-hosted a panel discussion on how American leadership was needed to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace. The discussion's sponsors were my Arab American Institute, and J Street, a Jewish peace organization. Members of Congress and delegates to the convention attended the event.

The discussion was thoughtful and provocative. But more than that, for me, the discussion served as vindication.

At the 1988 Democratic Convention in Atlanta, we had challenged the party to have just such a conversation on Israeli-Palestinian peace. We had enough votes to force a debate on a plank we sought to enter into the party platform and we wanted the right it discuss it at the convention.

In hindsight, our platform plank was a rather benign statement calling for "mutual recognition, territorial compromise, and self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians". But to those in charge of that year's convention what we proposed was dynamite. They did everything they could to stop us from exercising our right to discuss our amendment from the convention podium. I was told, "Zogby, you will destroy the party" and "You will never have a place in this party again".

But we would not surrender our right to "break the deadly silence" as we called it and went forward with the debate and a massive floor demonstration in support of our policy statement. The hysteria, of course, was unfounded. The party survived and I and many other Arab Americans serve in party leadership roles on national and state levels.

Even back then we knew that the majority of Americans agreed with our position and we knew that most American Jews did as well. The day after our debate the New York Times carried a story with the title "Arab versus Jew at the Democratic Convention".

I found this humorous because while we had almost 50 Arab American delegates supporting our plank, there were a few hundred American Jews supporting it. In later years we were able to poll in our two communities and demonstrate that both Arab Americans and American Jews want a balanced and just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Our polling of American public opinion also establishes that a solid majority of Americans believe the Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal rights. Those who oppose a balanced American approach to resolving the conflict are in the minority. They do not represent mainstream American opinion. Nor do they represent the majority of American Jews. And as our polling shows, they most certainly do not represent the attitudes of most Democrats.

And so our partnership with J Street and the very fact that we were able to host yesterday's standing room-only event sent a clear message to the party and the country. Our communities may not agree on everything, but we agree on the need to challenge our party to have this discussion about the urgency for American leadership to help end the moral outrage of continued occupation. We also make it clear that we will support a president who makes tough choices and presses for a solution that recognizes and reconciles Israeli and Palestinian needs and aspirations.

Twenty-four years after Atlanta our efforts continue making it clear that we will not settle for silence or inaction. That, for me, was a big story from yesterday's convention.

James Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute (www.aaiusa.org and Twitter at @aaiusa)