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US: Michigan's Arab and Muslim Americans mobilise to show Gaza will cost Biden presidency

Ahead of Michigan primary, Muslim and Arab communities join campaign to vote 'uncommitted' over outrage on Biden's fervent support for Israel
Protesters demonstrate outside a building where Biden administration officials are holding meetings in the city of Dearborn, Michigan on 8 February 2024.
Protesters demonstrate outside a building where Biden administration officials are holding meetings in the city of Dearborn, Michigan on 8 February 2024 (MEE/Umar Farooq)
By Umar A Farooq in Dearborn, Michigan

Ahead of the Michigan primary election next week, local organisers are pushing voters to select “uncommitted” at the ballot box instead of casting their vote for US President Joe Biden, in what has become a large-scale protest against the president's policies on the war in Gaza.

Over the past several weeks, Arab, Muslim and progressive organisers have been working around the clock, running this campaign of protest, to ensure Biden is well aware his administration's steadfast support for Israel's military assault will lose him the election in November.

Since being launched by the group "Listen to Michigan", the campaign to vote uncommitted in the upcoming primary has picked up considerable backing, including from Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and former congressman Andy Levin.

"It is also important to create a voting bloc, something that is a bullhorn to say enough is enough. We don't want a country that supports wars and bombs and destruction…We want to stand up for every single life killed in Gaza," Tlaib said in a get-out-the-vote video posted on X.

"This is the way you can raise our voices. Don't make us even more invisible," Tlaib told Michigan voters. "If you want us to be louder, then come here and vote uncommitted."

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For many communities in Michigan, the issue of Gaza hits close to home. The city of Dearborn, for example, is home to many immigrants from Palestine, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, areas both directly and indirectly involved in the ongoing Israeli assault on the enclave. Since October, Israel has killed more than 29,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza-based health ministry.

Much of Michigan's 200,000-strong Arab-American population lives in Wayne County, the area that contains the cities of Detroit and neighbouring Dearborn. Those communities voted heavily for Biden in 2020, and some analysts say they helped the president defeat Donald Trump by 154,000 votes.

Dearborn's mayor has a message for Biden: Change course on Gaza or lose presidency
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Those voters are now looking to snub Biden, who they say failed to uphold his own stated belief "in the worth and value of every Palestinian".

"We feel betrayed as a community. [Biden] is now funding the genocide of our own people, after we funded him, helped him, voted for him, supported him. And now we feel like he's disregarding our lives," Adam Abusaleh, a former field organiser for Biden's 2020 election campaign, told MEE.

Abusaleh is now working as a part of the uncommitted campaign.

"It's time for us to exercise our power. We are definitely a small minority but for some reason, we were put in a position of incredible leverage. These few Muslims and Arabs in Michigan in a swing state, they are the swing vote," said Mohammad Enayah, a Palestinian refugee who has called Michigan home for the last 41 years.

Israeli forces have killed 34 members of Enayah's family since October.

The campaign to vote uncommitted is being backed on multiple fronts by leading Muslim and Arab-American groups in the state.

An image calling on Michigan voters to vote "uncomitted" in the upcoming primary election on 27 February 2024.
An image calling on Michigan voters to vote "uncomitted" in the upcoming primary election on 27 February 2024 (Listen to Michigan/X)

"We signed on to the uncommitted campaign for the primary elections on February 27th to give the Biden Administration a preview of what they’ll get in November," Khalid Turaani, a co-chair for the Michigan chapter of the "Abandon Biden" campaign, told MEE.

"This should give him an idea about our sentiment and how upset we’re about his complicity and active support to the Israeli genocide in Gaza."

'Pulling wool over our eyes'

The Michigan primary will not affect Biden's chances of being the presidential nominee for the Democratic Party, but it will serve as a litmus test for where Democratic voters stand on Biden's reelection prospects come November.

Polling has already shown that Biden's policy on Gaza doesn't align with Democratic voters. Only 46 percent of voters in Biden's party approve of his handling of the war, according to an Associated Press poll from earlier this month. Biden also currently trails Trump in the state by four percentage points, according to the latest poll on Wednesday.

Despite this, Biden has continued to pursue a policy of fervid and uncritical support for Israel's military campaign in Gaza. Recent messaging from the administration has offered some pushback on Israel's actions. However, Washington has continued to back Israel's actions.

This week, for the third time the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire to the conflict in Gaza.

'If they regret it, I would like them to bring these people back from the dead'

- Mohammad Enayah

The US president's drop in poll numbers also comes after a failed visit to Dearborn by campaign managers from the Biden campaign last month, followed by a visit by top administration officials, who met with local elected officials.

The second group, which included USAID director Samantha Power and deputy national security advisor Jonathan Finer, also attempted to meet community organisers and ordinary citizens, triggering outrage amongst residents of Dearborn.

What followed the meeting was a report by The New York Times, which stated that senior Biden officials had expressed regrets over "missteps" they made on policy decisions since October.

The report, which appeared to state that the Biden administration was aware of the damage it had done to the Muslim and Arab community, fell on deaf ears for many.

"If they regret it, I would like them to bring these people back from the dead - Jesus was able to bring back the dead. If they can bring them back, and if these people who come back after death are able to forgive them, then okay. But it's not up to us to forgive them," said Enayah.

Micho Assi, a Dearborn native and political advocate, said that while there was a lot of debate as to how the community should respond to the Biden officials' meetings, it was clear where the community stood in response to what was reported in the news.

"We don't care what they're gonna put on their headlines, news and their mainstream media. We don't care if they came just to show hey 'we listened to the Muslim Americans, we listened to Arab Americans'," Assi told MEE.

"In terms of whether those visits are gonna really soften us, no. The anger is way amplified."

Turaani, a Palestinian American and former Dearborn resident who now lives in a suburb outside of Detroit, said to look at how many Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since those remarks of regret were made.

Since that meeting on 8 February, at least 1,460 Palestinians have been killed by Israel in Gaza, according to the Palestinian health ministry. The war has been overwhelmingly deadlier for Palestinians than Israel's 2014 war on Gaza, where 2,251 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in a month and a half.

"I'm sure these officials will continue to perpetuate and regurgitate the same sound bites that would try to salvage the Biden administration from the shame of actively supporting and actively thwarting any attempt to stop the genocide," Turaani said.

"If your words don't translate into stopping the ongoing genocide, you are just pulling the wool over our eyes."

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