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Arab Americans Shift Political Ties: Bush Policies said to Fuel New Alliances

posted on: Jun 22, 2008

Until a few years ago, N. Peter Antone was a loyal Republican.

The Iraqi Catholic immigrant from West Bloomfield admired Ronald Reagan’s sunny optimism, shared the GOP’s views on abortion and family values, and donated at least $400 every year to the Republican Party.

But, Antone, 56, has switched sides, donating his money and time to the Democratic Party. The shift reflects a move by a significant number of Arab Americans — who strongly backed President George W. Bush in 2000 — away from the Republican Party.

Antone is a Chaldean, many of whom are small business owners who put a strong emphasis on family values. But Antone says the Republicans are only helping big business, neglecting the issues of education and job creation. Antone and some other Arab Americans also feel the Bush administration has targeted immigrant communities through what they see as unconstitutional measures such as the Patriot Act.

“The current Republican establishment has violated every traditional Republican virtue in my opinion,” said Antone, an attorney. “They violated who we are as a nation.”

While the changing political views can be overstated, the portion of Arab Americans indentifying themselves as Republicans fell from 38% in 2000 to 26% in a survey last year by the nonpartisan Arab American Institute.

The shift, however, hasn’t resulted in a large number of Arab Americans identifying themselves as Democrats, suggesting some may now be calling themselves independents. “No one should take us for granted,” said Osama Siblani, an Arab-American leader from Dearborn who is independent but says he’s angry with the Republicans and disappointed with the Democrats. On Wednesday, Siblani is leading a meeting in Dearborn of Arab Americans to discuss the presidential race.

Jewish voters, who traditionally have been Democratic, also may be in play this year. Some Jewish Americans admire Bush for his steadfast support of Israel and see Sen. John McCain as someone who will stand tough against Islamic terrorism. Mark Segel, 55, of West Bloomfield, for one, grew up in a Democratic family but is now a Republican because he says they’re tougher on national security.

“The proper way to conduct foreign policy is to confront and destroy evil,” Segel said, rather than “to engage and have dialogue with evil.”

Niraj Warikoo
Detroit Free Press