Friday, February 29, 2008

A Jew in Sheik's Clothing? - Lesson from 1964

In 1964 the question in New York was: Can a bright, young, energetic, ambitious Jew get elected to Congress from a heavily Jewish district if he has an Arab name?

While searching for the pictures in my previous post, I came across this fascinating story published in Time Magazine in May 1964. Yes, 1964. And it is about a young progressive newbie in the political arena who is running for the 19th district in New York. Our candidate is running against a more seasoned politician, who happened to be Jewish. The younger guy had career experience and family credentials that "would seem to make [him] a likely Democratic reform candidate in the June 2 [1964] primary against Congressman Leonard Farbstein, 61, a Tammany type who is seeking a fifth term in Manhattan's meandering 19th Congressional District".
One problem though: the young candidate's name was William Haddad.
You may not see much in that name, but an Arab will recognize the last name: it means 'smith' in Arabic, more specifically, a blacksmith.
But William Haddad was not a Muslim, nor a Christian. He is actually Jewish, born to a Russian Jewish mother.
Unlucky for him though, his father was an Egyptian Jew.
So his opponent, Mr. Farbstein, adopted the following slogan: "Can you trust an ARAB to fight for the interests of Jews and for Israel?"
[Khaled's comment: in case you may get confused by this statement, let me reiterate that the race was for a representative of Manhattan, New York and not for the Israeli Knesset].

The article continues:
"Even worse, said Haddad, Farbstein was going about telling folks that Haddad was born an Egyptian, that he got married in the Protestant Episcopal Church and thus was a meshumad (an apostate from Judaism). In the 19th District, where 50% of the voters are Jews, such talk can ruin a politician."
"Haddad, naturally, was outraged over the whispering campaign. He tried to catch up with the rumors by pointing out that his mother is a Russian-born Jew who keeps a kosher home, and that his father had the misfortune of having been born in Cairo to Egyptian Jews."
But the young candidate still had some moral spine, and was so upset that he needed to prove his Jewishness to be competitive in the primaries of June 1964, that he told the magazine editor "If I have to be Jewish to win this campaign, it's not worth winning."
So, not much is new under the sun. Politics is dirty, and has alway been.
I am not sure how that election race of June 1964 ended. I am writing this late at night, and I am too tired to do more research on the subject (if you find out, leave a comment to inform the rest of us about how the race concluded).

The campaign against Obama cannot get him by saying why they really do not like him: black, new and relatively independent (i.e., not deeply in bed with special interest groups), but worst of all, he seems to have the people behind him.
People will vote for him because of who he is, not because they hate the other guy (or gal) more. The establishment dose not look kindly upon something like that. That almost pulls the carpet from underneath the power brokers, and hands the lead back to The People. They, the power brokers, can put up with losing to the other party. But loosing to The People is too much for them to swallow.

The Republicans (and possibly the Clinton campaign) are having a mud slinging party against Obama to score cheap electoral gains at any price. And the right wing Jewish groups (Likudniks) would like to embarrass him enough to extort some statements on pro-Israel policies that may tie his hands in case he gets elected.

I hope both groups fail, but the outcome is far from certain. He may be riding a tidal wave, but as I mentioned before: politics is dirty.

As for 2008, the question will be: Can a bright, young, energetic, ambitious Black get elected to the White House if he has an Arab name?



A Jew in Sheik's Clothing? - Time Magazine, 1964

1 comment:

  1. William Haddad failed in his bid to be elected to Congress, but he has succeeded in other aspects of his career.

    He was a founding associate director of the Peace Corps, and a prize-winning journalist.

    In 1968 he worked on Robert F. Kennedy's campaign as Special Liaison to the Jewish community. Later, he was Mario Cuomo's campaign manager.

    Then he went into the pharmaceutical business, and was one of the founders of the generic drug industry.

    Today Bill Haddad is the Chairman/CEO of Biogenerics Inc., and works hard as a volunteer on a campaign to reduce the price of AIDS medicine in Africa.