FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How to Vote Against Your Own Interests

by JAMES G. ABOUREZK

During my first year as a U.S. Senator, I was visited by a member of the Brazilian parliament.  He was in the opposition to the dictatorship in Brazil, and that he was sick because of what he knew about the torture the military junta undertook in order to stay in power.

“What can I do?”  I asked.

“You have the ability to expose, to publicize what’s happening there.”

“I don’t think I have enough influence to put a stop to it,” I countered.

“You don’t understand,” he said, “if those people who are in prison for political crimes know that someone outside knows of what’s happening them, they will feel hope.  As it is now, they despair of anyone ever knowing of their suffering.”

I had not known about conditions in Brazil, but what he said was enough to galvanize me into trying to publicize what the dictatorship was doing.  I began introducing amendments to foreign aid legislation that would cut off funds for any country that tortured its own people.  I was never able to pass such an amendment, even though, amazingly, the Democrats controlled the Senate back then.  I was able, however, to close down the “School for Torture” that was being operated under the name of the School of the Americas, but it was only later that Tom Harkin, after he was elected to the Senate, was able to pass an anti-torture amendment.

I relate this anecdote to remind readers how important it is for people under occupation to know that someone is aware, that there are people who care about what’s happening to them.  This sentiment is especially true for those Palestinians who have lived under Israeli occupation since 1948, and the years following.   There is a feeling by those people that the world doesn’t care what happens to them.  That is why it is doubly important that voices of protest over the illegal Israeli occupation continue to be heard, despite the seeming hopelessness of their condition.

The backbone of protest here in the United States has been, by and large, the Arab American community.  This is a group of people who, by virtue of their special knowledge of what is happening to the Palestinians on a daily basis, have been able to articulate to the American public at large what is going on.  Of course, overcoming the political power of the Israeli Lobby has been extremely difficult; the knowledge by those under occupation that someone cares and that someone is trying to do something about it sustains hope when it looks the darkest.

That hope grew dimmer this election year.  In spite of the fealty paid to the Israeli Lobby both by Obama and by McCain, and in spite of Ralph Nader doing his best to publicize the brutality of the Israeli occupation, a great many Arab Americans abandoned Nader and his message in favor of the other candidates.

Of course, we all understood that Nader would not win the election, but the movement of Arab Americans away from him regrettably deprives him of the political influence he might have gained to press his positions, including his strong criticism of Israel’s illegal occupation.  His voice is considerably weakened because of the movement of Arab American voters to other candidates, which is unfortunate for those Palestinians who live in desperation on a daily basis.  The same is true for the people of Lebanon and Syria who are in constant fear of being bombed by U.S. warplanes flown by Israeli pilots.

In this election, a great many Arab Americans joined Obama’s winning coalition, despite Obama’s clear indication that he wanted nothing to do with Arabs, either Christian or Muslim.  We saw, during his campaign, that his staff prevented Muslim women with head scarves from sitting behind him in view of the television cameras during his campaign rallies.  He visited Christian churches and Jewish Synagogues, but he refused to visit even one Mosque during the campaign.  And, finally, joining John McCain, he made the obligatory bow and scrape to the Israeli Lobby—AIPAC—during that group’s 2008 convention.   He made no attempt to hide any of these clearly pro-Israeli actions from Arab Americans.  Had he done the same toward any other ethnic group, we would expect that the group would find another electoral home for their support and their votes.  But that, apparently, is not what happened this year.  Arab Americans voted overwhelmingly in support of Obama, rushing right past Ralph Nader, who has articulated the community’s feelings about the Israeli occupation.

This is a continuation of the self-destructive attitude held by people of Arab descent.  We see it in the Arab world, and we see it among the Arab diaspora.   We see the urge to defeat or to overlook one of our own in favor of catering to those we think will are certain to hold power.

Someone once said that when the Zionists looked around for a place to organize an exclusive Jewish state, they chose their target wisely.  When Arab Americans, and Arabs as well, learn to act in their own interests, then the day will come when politicians will begin to listen to what they have to say.  Arab Americans desperately need to learn to reward their friends.  Failing that, all that remains for them will be their enemies.

JAMES G. ABOUREZK is a lawyer practicing in South Dakota. He is a former United States senator and the author of two books, Advise and Dissent, and a co-author of Through Different Eyes. Abourezk  can be reached at georgepatton@alyajames.net.

More articles by:

James Abourezk is a former US senator from South Dakota. He is the author of: Advise and Dissent: Memoirs of an ex-Senator.

February 22, 2018
T.J. Coles
How the US Bullies North Korea, 1945-Present
Ipek S. Burnett
Rethinking Freedom in the Era of Mass Shootings
Manuel E. Yepe
Fire and Fury: More Than a Publishing Hit
Patrick Bobilin
Caught in a Trap: Being a Latino Democrat is Being in an Abusive Relationship
Laurel Krause
From Kent State to Parkland High: Will America Ever Learn?
Terry Simons
Congress and the AR-15: One NRA Stooge Too Many
George Wuerthner
Border Wall Delusions
Manuel García, Jr.
The Anthropocene’s Birthday, or the Birth-Year of Human-Accelerated Climate Change
Thomas Knapp
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Russiagate
February 21, 2018
Cecil Bothwell
Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Taking on the Pentagon
Patrick Cockburn
People Care More About the OXFAM Scandal Than the Cholera Epidemic
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail