James Zogby to Asharq Al-Awsat: Arab Americans ‘Fearful,’ Won’t Vote for Biden

Protesters commemorate the children killed in Gaza during a demonstration in New York City on December 28 (AFP)
Protesters commemorate the children killed in Gaza during a demonstration in New York City on December 28 (AFP)

James Zogby to Asharq Al-Awsat: Arab Americans ‘Fearful,’ Won’t Vote for Biden

Protesters commemorate the children killed in Gaza during a demonstration in New York City on December 28 (AFP)
Protesters commemorate the children killed in Gaza during a demonstration in New York City on December 28 (AFP)

James Zogby, head of the American-Arab Institute in Washington, disclosed to Asharq Al-Awsat that President Joe Biden’s popularity has significantly dropped among Arab and Muslim communities, as well as among American youth.

The decline is attributed to Biden's unwavering support for Israel since the Gaza conflict began.

Zogby highlighted that diminished approval of Biden will be noticeable in key states including Michigan, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Florida, and possibly Georgia – all swing states where the competition with his rival, former President Donald Trump, is tightening.

Despite his long history with the Democratic Party for nearly five decades, Zogby has rare criticisms for the Biden administration.

He predicts that candidates from the “third party” will gain many votes because of dissatisfaction among a narrow youth demographic with the ages of both Biden and Trump, and expects many others to abstain from voting.

Zogby also mentioned facing threats due to his pro-Palestinian stances, resulting in the imprisonment of some individuals.

Certain Jewish organizations label criticism of Israel as part of anti-Semitism, noted Zogby.

He highlighted the challenges faced by Arab communities in universities and workplaces for supporting the Palestinian cause.

In a Zoom interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Zogby was asked if he felt let down by how President Biden supported Israel during the Gaza war.

“My disappointment with Biden is deep and will last,” said the head of the American-Arab Institute.

After the events of Oct.7 and Biden’s anger towards Hamas, Zogby told the White House they weren’t giving themselves an exit.

He criticized Biden for providing unconditional support for Israel.

By the time the US president changed his language, it was too late as the Israeli war machine had committed atrocities.

Zogby recalled a high-level meeting where he requested a ceasefire.

The administration responded it would be unacceptable, fearing it would give Hamas a chance to rearm.

Zogby pointed out the thousands of civilian casualties, but there was no response to the dilemma of choosing between two unacceptable situations: a ceasefire or the death of Palestinians.

Israel’s Narrative

In the last three months, Zogby noted that some Arab Americans have expressed a prevailing sentiment that Arab and Palestinian lives are not valued.

“I think there’s something significant in the Israeli narrative, as Joe Biden and many in his administration did,” said Zogby.

“These views date back to the 70’s and 80’s and continue today: Israel is seen as a pioneering border state, similar to how America fought on its borders and made room for freedom where dreams could come true,” he added.

“The indigenous people are viewed as obstacles to civilization. This mindset is still prevalent today, and it's a significant factor. I believe Arab Americans sense that.”

“This lack of understanding will cost Biden the support of the Arab community,” explained Zogby.

He hinted that with the elections approaching, Arab Americans might not give the support Biden is counting on.

Zogby shared poll results showing a significant drop in support for Biden, with only 17% indicating they would back him, compared to the 59% who did in 2020.

He warned against dismissing this sentiment, emphasizing that people, especially the youth, won't simply return to voting for Biden or Trump.

Moreover, Zogby expected third-party candidates to perform well in 2024, as many individuals, especially the youth, feel disengaged and may not vote at all.

He underscored the importance for Democrats not to take these votes for granted.

Third Party

Zogby, a well-respected figure among American decision-makers of Lebanese descent, believes third-party candidates like Cornel West and Bob Kennedy are already gaining support.

He noted that their stance on Israel, especially in the case of Kennedy, might differ but doesn’t evoke the same level of frustration within the Arab community as Biden’s did.

Zogby mentioned that this could impact the upcoming elections.

When asked about Arab Americans being united in their feelings, Zogby said: “One thing we learn from surveys and politics is that there is absolutely no unity.”

As for the influence of Arab American votes on Trump and Biden, Zogby explained: “They matter a lot in states like Michigan and Virginia.”

They could also have an impact in Florida or any state where elections are decided by a small margin, like 3% or 4%, he added, noting that even a community with 2% support in Ohio, 2% in Pennsylvania, about 5% in Michigan, and 1.5% in Florida, can make a significant difference.”

“In elections decided by a majority of 20,000 votes or fewer, like in Georgia, our growing community there can play a role,” noted Zogby.

Anti-semitism... Arabs

Regarding the growing issue of anti-Semitism in the US, a sensitive matter not only within communities but also in universities and various spheres, much like addressing Islamophobia, Zogby recognized that “anti-Semitism is a real problem, no question.”

Zogby affirmed that he has consistently fought against anti-Semitism within his community.

He raised observations, one being that “there are two Jewish organizations making efforts to conflate anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism and anti-Israel behavior.”

“This is fundamentally wrong,” said Zogby, clarifying that “when we look at the rise of anti-Semitism, we need to distinguish between someone tearing a poster supporting Israel or burning the Israeli flag.”

“That is not anti-Semitism. It is anti-Israel sentiment,” he asserted.

Zogby also highlighted that “there is a lot of talk about this issue, but not as much attention is given to the challenges faced by Arab students on university campuses.”

“In truth, it's not only limited to campuses but also extends to workplaces.”

“Some major Jewish organizations pressured certain companies to sign statements equating any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism,” revealed Zogby.

According to Zogby, this is fundamentally wrong and a violation of freedom of expression.

Quiet Battles

Referring to influential Arab Americans in different administrations and their role in addressing issues like the conflict in Gaza, Zogby shared two observations.

Firstly, those in high positions are quietly battling and shaping conversations by correcting narratives.

Secondly, Zogby expressed concern for junior staff facing tough situations.

Looking ahead to the elections on November 5, about eleven months away, Zogby said he can't imagine a replay of the 2020 race with Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

As per Zogby, many Americans feel the same way.

“Look at the polls; the majority say it's unlikely,” he confirmed.

Zogby noted that Americans realize that by the time of elections both Biden and Trump would be in their eighties.

If Joe Biden doesn't run, Zogby said he doesn’t know who will.

“At this point, it's too late for new entries into the primaries,” he reminded.


Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The late Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, excelled at delivering messages subtly. In private meetings, he spoke more freely than in public statements or interviews. His chief advisor, Fakhri Karim, often joined these discussions.

Luncheons were lavish, showing Talabani's respect for different opinions, though he rarely followed doctors’ advice.

Talabani believed that Iranian leaders were smart and hoped they wouldn’t try to control Baghdad from Tehran, citing the failed attempt to manage Beirut from Damascus.

He noted that Iraq’s independent spirit makes it hard for the country to follow the US, Iran, or Türkiye. Talabani also admitted giving refuge to 80 Iraqi officers who had fought against Iran, after they were targeted by certain groups.

Talabani praised Syria’s late President Hafez al-Assad for his invaluable support, providing accommodation and passports.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Karim revealed he had warned President Bashar al-Assad, on behalf of Talabani, that militants allowed into Iraq to fight US forces might later turn against Syria.

This, Karim noted, did happen.

After the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982, Karim relocated to Damascus. There, he expanded his Al-Mada organization, focusing on publishing, translation, and organizing book fairs, alongside his political activities.

This allowed him to build relationships with top civilian and military officials.

In 2000, after Bashar al-Assad came to power, he met with Karim.

“I felt Assad was eager to listen, especially given my connections with many intellectuals,” recalled Karim.

“I told him dissenting voices exist but are mostly positive. You talk about modernization and renewal; this is a chance for some openness, even in elections,” Karim said he told Assad.

“Do you think anyone could really compete with you, given your position as the Baath Party's leader with all its resources?” Karim questioned.

Karim then discussed the situation of Syrian Kurds with Assad, noting that many lack identification papers, even basic travel documents. He also mentioned seeing historic Kurdish areas in the Khabur region with their names changed to Arabic, which causes sensitivities.

“I am not satisfied with this situation. Rest assured, this issue is on my agenda, and you will hear positive news about it,” Karim cited Assad as saying at the time.

In a later meeting, after the change in Iraq, Karim met Assad several times.

On one occasion, Karim recalls conveying Talabani’s greetings and concerns about armed fighters moving into Iraq and the dangers this posed to both Iraq and possibly Syria.

“We have deployed large forces to secure the borders, but what can we do? There are tribes and smugglers,” Assad complained about the situation.

“I told President Assad that as Fakhri Karim, I couldn’t share with the Americans what I know. I assured him that terrorists enter Iraq from a specific location I’m familiar with, not from all borders,” Karim recounted to Asharq Al-Awsat.

“I also noted that Syria tightly controls its airspace, shooting down any foreign aircraft,” he added.

Assad then responded to Karim and said: “We’re prepared, let us know what we can do.”

In reality, Damascus was worried because there were reports suggesting that Syria’s Baath regime could be the next target for the US army at its borders. Additionally, Damascus was concerned about the sectarian divisions—Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish—in dealing with Iraq and the potential impact on Syria.

Repairing Kurdish Relations

Karim has spent years working on repairing the relationship between Kurdish leaders Talabani and Masoud Barzani.

This history began with the split that gave rise to the ‘Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’ from the ‘Kurdistan Democratic Party.’

Despite bloody conflicts and external meddling, Karim believes Kurdish leaders unify in the face of danger to their people and region, a pattern he expects to continue.

Karim believes that the Kurdish leadership, symbolized by Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, made a big mistake at the beginning by focusing only on regional issues, ignoring Baghdad’s affairs.

He thinks they should have aimed for a federal democratic system that respects citizenship rights.

Karim pointed out that without a unified Iraq, the region’s rights would be uncertain. He also criticized the Shiite-Kurdish alliance, which he sees as odd.

Additionally, he mentioned mistakes in failing to unify regional institutions and increasing corruption, with party interests often trumping competence in appointments.

Asked about the personal bond between Talabani and Barzani, Karim said: “Both have moved past their tough history, but they haven’t done enough for the future.”

“I want to highlight an act by Barzani that shows his character. When Talabani was sick, Barzani made it clear to anyone thinking of harming Talabani or his family that there would be consequences,” he revealed.

“This isn’t hearsay, it’s firsthand,” affirmed Karim.

“Barzani also refused to discuss the presidency or a successor during Talabani’s illness. I personally organized a gathering for Talabani’s family, where Barzani reassured them, ‘I’m here for you, I’m family.’ His words moved everyone, showing a strong emotional connection,” he added.

When asked about Barzani’s character, Karim said: “He's been a long-time friend, and our relationship has been politically aligned and personally warm from the start.”

“I see him as a loyal friend, and he's shown that loyalty on multiple occasions. He’s smart, decisive, and listens carefully, often changing his mind after thorough consideration,” he noted.

“Once Barzani commits to something, he finds it hard to go back on his word. There was a moment during negotiations with Saddam Hussein when he stood firm despite my advice to reconsider,” recalled Karim.

Regarding the aftermath of the independence referendum, Karim believes that the negative turn in the political landscape began during Nouri al-Maliki’s tenure.

Al-Maliki’s attempts to shift alliances and his refusal to compromise exacerbated tensions.

The referendum itself wasn’t the problem; rather, it was exploited by some to punish the Kurdistan Region.

However, Karim emphasized that holding referendums is a citizen’s right, and the purpose of the Kurdistan referendum was to affirm this right, not to declare independence.