Can a US Senate candidate spare 7 hours?

Following the Gibran Awards dinner, the Arab American Institute's (AAI) National Policy Council (a group of 30+ activists, both Republican and Democrat, from all around the United States) met on Thursday to discuss efforts to engage the Arab American community in the mid-term elections of November 2006.

I suggested to my colleagues, particularly those that in states like New Jersey that have hotly contested Senate races, that Arab-Americans should approach the campaigns with respect to any trips to the Middle East on the part of the candidates.

Since groups like AIPAC have a long track record of organizing visits to Israel for prominent candidates, it would be prudent for Arab-Americans, I proposed, to offer the campaigns the opportunity to augment these trips by meeting with citizens and leaders in the West Bank or even the neighboring Arab countries, which the AAI could help arrange.

In addition to appealing to both Arab-American and American Jewish consituencies, geographically balanced trips will likely receive more favorable press coverage and bolster a candidate's peacemaking credentials, thereby courting a much wider voter base.

Anyway, after I made my suggestion, AAI President James Zogby chimed in, suggesting that the AAI has considerable experience in organizing such visits. Jim specifically mentioned the potential to meet with progressive Palestinian leaders like Hanan Ashrawi, and suggested that Ramallah, a town in the West Bank just a few miles from Jerusalem, had a prominent community of Palestinian business leaders who also hold American citizenship.

My response: "Ramallah would be great Jim, and it's only a 7-hour drive from Jerusalem!"