by Haya Luftig
By: Jon Marks | JE Staff
If our children are indeed our future — as Whitney Houston once sang and as First Lady Michelle Obama spelled out repeatedly while addressing the Democratic National Convention on July 25 — then the upcoming presidential election will go a long ways in shaping it.
That was the message delivered during the American Jewish Committee’s panel discussion, The Political Implications of Changing U.S. Demographics, on July 26 at the Center City law offices of Saul Ewing, LLP.
A representation of minorities across the board — Hispanic, Asian, Muslim, African-American and, of course, Jewish — spoke about how the divide between the candidates had made this a critical time for Americans.
For the racial, religious and general inclusion this country was built upon to continue, they emphasized that now’s when minorities need to be speak up and be heard where it counts the most: at the polls.
That’s especially true of the next generation, according to U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA).
“Right now 70,000 Latinos turn 18 every month,” Becerra said. “With such a distinct demographic voting pool, we could really see a change this election.
“The issue is if they do come out and vote, because if they do, Hillary Clinton will be president. If they don’t, we could have total abandonment and friction within the population that will make a decision these millennials could regret.
“We’re entering a new area of politics in this country. If we’re not ready for it, we’re in trouble.”
That theme was echoed throughout the panel.
“I’ve been in America 40 years, and I’ve seen a dramatic change in the Muslim-American population,” said S.A. Ibrahim, a Muslim originally from India. “Many feel uncomfortable practicing their religion openly, so they’re not considered Muslims according to most studies.
“It used to be 80 percent of Muslims voted Republican, but only 60 percent were registered. But there’s been a shift, and now it’s estimated 80 percent will vote Democratic. The No. 1 issue for American Muslims is the economy. Number two is religious freedom.”
By the same token among Asian-Americans, who make up such a small percentage of the vote they’re often disregarded, that’s about to change, too.
“As Asian-Americans, half the time we’re ignored on the political scene,” said Mee Moua, a Minnesota state senator from 2002 to 2008 who originally decided to run for office “because I didn’t think I could win.”
“We don’t even show up in the polls,” she continued. “No wonder 39 percent of Asian-Americans are undecided. But Asian-Americans should not be ignored by politicians. You do so at your own peril.”
Moua had strong feelings about gender equity, urging women to make sure to stand up for themselves in November.
“Women are going to make a difference in this election,” she said. “We’ve been waiting for this. My daughter hears the things people say about Hillary and asks me, ‘Is the only reason people are going after her because she’s a girl?’
“There’s a lot of urgency for us to speak up in this election. We’re not gonna let this opportunity go by.”
Turning the topic to Israel, the panelists expressed universal support for the Jewish homeland.
“There’s been a generational split,” said E.J. Dionne, a columnist for The Washington Post. “Americans who are older liberals and Democrats will always have strong ties to Israel. That’s not gonna go away. The real challenge within the Jewish community is among young liberals.”
The AJC held a similar panel last week in Cleveland, where the topics dealt far less with inclusion, minorities and millennials than other topics.
“We spent more time talking about the specifics of criminal justice reform than we did here,” said David Bernstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, who was on both panels. “Israel’s place in this new demographic was not brought up in Cleveland.
“But I think one of the tremendous advantages of such a panel like this is having the opportunity to have public dialogue and to build bridges. It renews our own connection to other ethnic and minority communities.”
That’s an essential concern for Jewish Americans going forward.
“It was important to think about the effect of the election with a very diverse population and how American Jews fit into it,” explained AJC Associate Director of Public Policy Jason Isaacson. “We wanted to get a cross section of ethnic and religious groups.
“The Jewish community has to stay abreast of these new trends and reach out — particularly on the issue of Israel — to people who have not been part of the issue in the past.
“They must be in the future.”
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