Arab Americans in Washington are prepared for tonight’s third and final presidential debate: they’ve got falafel, shawarma and hashtags.
Two large Arab-American organizations – the Arab American Institute and the Network of Arab American Professionals – are teaming up for a watch party they hope will extend beyond D.C. via social media for a real-time push to call out candidates’ on biased or bigoted remarks.
Using the hashtags #NoBigotry and #YallaVote, the groups are encouraging people to “applaud or correct candidates as they address issues that matter to us, the Arab American community.” The word “yalla” is Arabic, roughly translated as “Come on!” or “Let’s go!”
The announced debate topics “align with issues where our community has unique insight, like immigration and ‘foreign hot spots,’ ” said Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute, a nonprofit group founded in 1985 to advocate the interests and encourage political participation of Americans with roots in the Arab world.
Since 1998, the institute’s “YallaVote” campaign has shed light on the growing political clout of Arab Americans, particularly those concentrated in some of the largest and most contested states: California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia. The institute also maintains a database of Arab Americans running for elected office around the country; more than 30 were candidates this year.
After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Arab American voting trends shifted from the Republican to the Democratic Party, according to the institute and other research; a poll with the latest figures is expected next week. But neither Republican Donald Trump nor Democrat Hillary Clinton enjoys universal support – his nakedly bigoted remarks about Arabs and Muslims are a big problem for the community, as are Clinton’s track record of Middle Eastern interventions and habit of talking about Arabs and Muslims primarily through a national security filter.
The institute tries to pin down candidates on Arab American voter concerns such as surveillance and profiling at home as well as U.S. policy in the Middle East. Ahead of tonight’s debate, the Arab American Institute issued 12 key questions that Arab Americans might ask if they were moderators.
They include: “Do you support the advancement of Arab Americans and American Muslims in elected and appointed offices?” and “What weight, if any, do you give to the theory that the United States’ priorities and values are in conflict with Islam, the religion of 1.6 billion people worldwide?” Others are about the rise of xenophobia in the United States, the best way to fight Islamic State extremists and views on Syria policy.
“One thing that comes up every time is the idea that Syrian refugees aren’t vetted.
Every time, we have to say, here’s our handy chart and, yes, they are vetted,” said Jennifer Salan, communications director for the Arab American Institute.
But, given the heavy and depressing rhetoric about Arabs and Muslims this campaign season, they’d also like to have a little fun, Salan said. So the institute issued a debate tool kit, which includes a tongue-in-cheek bingo game (slots for every time a candidate says “Palestine,” “terror watch list” and “Muslim ban”) and photo props readers can download and cut out.
One possible pairing is an Uncle Sam hat worn with a black-and-white checkered kaffiyeh.