Schwarzenegger's Israel Visit Irks Arab-Americans

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (search) 24-hour trip to Israel has angered some Arab-Americans, who say he hasn't set aside time to hear from Palestinians.

The trip is intended as a feel-good mission to celebrate the groundbreaking for a museum of tolerance in Jerusalem and to put to rest suggestions that Schwarzenegger has any sympathy with his father's Nazi past.

"He's going to disappoint a lot of people here and all over the world," said Sam Ali, originally from Egypt, as he parked his car in an Anaheim neighborhood that features a growing number of shops catering to Arab-Americans.

Ali, 29, said he voted for Schwarzenegger in last year's recall after deciding that former Gov. Gray Davis (search) was ineffective. But he echoed the sentiments of nearly everyone else interviewed in the district known as "Little Arabia" in expressing deep disappointment over the governor's Israel itinerary.

"He should be working to make peace between both sides," he said.

Schwarzenegger agreed to attend the groundbreaking more than a year ago, before he was a candidate for governor, and said earlier this month that the visit is "an extraordinary moment for me."

Arab-Americans said they wished he would take a detour to see the poverty and despair among Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza Strip and listen to their complaints about Israel.

"It's his prerogative to visit, but he should be fair to all races and religions," said Mohammed Abdullah, 46, a Palestinian-American who works as a butcher in Anaheim.

Did he vote for Schwarzenegger? "Unfortunately," Abdullah said.

The interviews in Anaheim offer an incomplete snapshot of the opinions of California's approximately 600,000 Arab-Americans, about 1.7 percent of the state's population. Some declined to speak to a reporter, saying they were sensitive to anti-Muslim sentiment and reluctant to criticize a government official.

The Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (search) plans to issue a report Monday that the group says will document an increase in anti-Muslim incidents nationwide. Its Anaheim-based California branch will issue a separate report about hate crimes in the state.

The group said California has the nation's highest number of incidents and largest population of Muslims, about a million.

A spokeswoman for the California branch, Sabiha Khan, offered a cautious response to Schwarzenegger's plan to attend Sunday's groundbreaking for the Simon Wiesenthal Center (search) museum of tolerance and meet with Israeli government leaders, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search).

"We welcome his trip abroad to learn more, and we hope that since he's interested in tolerance that he takes a trip to the Palestinian side to see the devastation they are living through under the occupation," Khan said.

Others take a more strident approach. A Connecticut-based group known as Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, called on members in California to contact the governor to demand that he cancel his trip, asserting the museum will be built on land "stolen by Israel."

Schwarzenegger's spokeswoman, Terri Carbaugh, said Friday that the governor's expected comments about tolerance should appeal to both sides of the Israel-Palestinian issue.

"Tolerance is a message that he sends out to everyone regardless of ethnicity," she said.

Schwarzenegger has a long-standing relationship with the Wiesenthal center, one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations. He has given the group more than $1 million.

The governor's father was a member of the Nazi party, but the actor-turned-politician has always sought to distance himself from that part of his Austrian background.