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US Muslim group that initially backed Bernie Sanders endorses Joe Biden

Biden says he is 'honoured' to get Emgage's endorsement and vows to embrace diversity
Emgage PAC dubs itself as 'first and largest' federal political action committee in United States (Reuters)
By Ali Harb in Washington

Emgage PAC, a Muslim-American political action committee, on Thursday endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for president, throwing its weight behind him, months after it had backed Bernie Sanders in the primaries.

The endorsement comes as Democrats and their allies have rallied around Biden following Sanders' decision to drop out of the race and endorse him, leaving the former vice president as the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Emgage cited Biden's commitment to rolling back some of President Donald Trump's policies, including the Muslim ban and mass detention of migrants, and also the presumptive Democratic nominee's "determination to protect the environment" as reasons to support him.

'As president, I will stand up for Muslim communities across the country, immediately repeal Donald Trump's Muslim Ban, and embrace diversity as a core strength of our nation'

- Joe Biden

"Beyond the immediate devastation caused by Covid-19, we are facing an all-out assault against democratic principles and values at home and abroad that we have not seen since the rise of fascism and Nazisim early in the 20th century," Emgage CEO Wa'el Alzayat said in a statement.

"We appreciate Biden's acknowledgement and support of Muslim American communities, and envision our voices being represented through his presidency."

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Emgage PAC dubs itself as the "first and largest" federal political action committee in the United States and says that it endorses and financially backs candidates across the country. 

Earlier this year, Biden appointed Muslim-American activist Farooq Mitha, who is an Emgage board member, as senior adviser.

Biden 'honoured' by Emgage backing

Biden welcomed the group's endorsement on Thursday, saying that he was "honoured" to receive it.

"From small business owners creating jobs to healthcare professionals on the front lines fighting Covid-19, Muslim Americans contribute every day to the fabric and success of our nation," Biden said in a statement. 

"As president, I will stand up for Muslim communities across the country, immediately repeal Donald Trump's Muslim Ban, and embrace diversity as a core strength of our nation, not demonize it."

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In a phone interview with Middle East Eye, Alzayat said Emgage made a decision early on against endorsing Trump because of his "anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric as well as mismanagement of almost every aspect of our country".

"So knowing that, we looked at the Democratic field. We vetted and interviewed and surveyed the community and talked to the candidates and their campaigns, especially the top four candidates," he said. 

"We ultimately decided on Bernie Sanders. But Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race, and he endorsed Joe Biden."

Alzayat, who served in the US State Department during the Obama administration, said Emgage has had a good relationship with the Biden campaign.

"Through our engagements with him, we found him to be very good on a lot of the issues that Muslim Americans care about," he said.

Call to remain engaged 

Muslim-American activists had overwhelmingly backed Sanders during the primaries, citing his domestic proposal advocating for universal health care and cancelling student debt as well as his foreign policy, particularly emphasising Palestinian human rights.

Biden has been a staunch supporter of Israel. And while he says he opposes the Israeli occupation and settlement expansion in Palestinian territories, last year he dismissed Sanders' call for conditioning aid to Israel as "bizarre".

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Alzayat said one way to work towards a "more equitable treatment" for Palestinians from Washington is to remain "involved in the civic space" in order to be "part of the conversations about these policy issues.

"We have to vote. And we have to make it a habit," he told MEE. "And we have to be focused in our engagement and smart about how we engage."

Sanders set an example that other candidates can use as a blueprint for energising the often-ignored Muslim voters, Alzayat added.

"Senator Sanders wholeheartedly embraced the community and made Muslim and Arab engagement part and parcel of his electoral strategy, which is historic," he said.

"There are lessons for other candidates of any party, including Biden whom we endorsed, to see how a candidate can actually connect with minority communities and get them to embrace them, irrespective of the age and the ethnic and religious difference."

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