Arab-American snub for Team Biden signals trouble

AFP , Tuesday 30 Jan 2024

Arab-American anger over Joe Biden's Israel policy could cost him dearly in November's US presidential vote, as a community with electoral influence in key swing states turns against him.

Pro-Palestinian supporters including one wearing a mask depicting US President Joe Biden (R), hold p
Pro-Palestinian supporters including one wearing a mask depicting US President Joe Biden (R), hold placards and chant slogans as they take part in a Day of Action for Palestine demonstration. AFP


Over the weekend, the Democratic incumbent's campaign manager traveled to Dearborn, Michigan -- home to the largest concentration of Arab-Americans in the United States -- and was snubbed by a group of a dozen or so officials, including the Detroit suburb's mayor.

Biden has asked Congress for billions of dollars in additional military aid to Israel and his government has vetoed multiple UN Security Council calls for a ceasefire in the conflict, leaving many Muslims and people of Middle Eastern heritage feeling betrayed by the Democratic Party, their former political home.

"When elected officials view the atrocities in Gaza only as an electoral problem, they reduce our indescribable pain into a political calculation," Mayor Abdullah Hammoud wrote on X about why he chose not to meet Julie Chavez Rodriguez.

His comments were cheered by Dearborn residents, who expressed anguish at the daily horrors in Gaza.

'Call for a ceasefire' 

"It is a genocide that's happening against our families and our people, and people have been responding very strongly," Amer Zahr, a law professor and comedian, told AFP.

"We're not supporting Joe Biden under any circumstances -- or any politician frankly -- that is not willing to simply call for a ceasefire," added the 46-year-old former surrogate for Bernie Sanders.

Come November 5, Biden faces a tough rematch against likely opponent Donald Trump. Swing states like Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Virginia, with significant proportions of Muslims and Arab-Americans, could be crucial.

These socially and economically conservative groups were once seen as natural Republican voters, but their allegiances shifted after 9/11 as a result of the surveillance policies and perceived Islamophobia of the George W. Bush administration.

Biden won decisively among Arabs and Muslims in 2020. But according to an analysis by Youssef Chouhoud, a quantitative social scientist at Christopher Newport University who looked at polling data from sources including nonprofit Emgage and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, many could stay home or vote for a third-party in 2024.

"In Michigan, for example, that could mean Biden would lose about 55,000 votes, or about a third of the 154,000-vote margin of victory he earned over Trump in 2020," Chouhoud wrote on The Conversation.

Biden protesters 

Biden's speeches and campaign events meanwhile are increasingly marked by pro-Palestinian disruptors, exposing the faultlines within Democratic circles with younger, more progressive corners of the party highly critical of the president.

Not even the prospect of a second term for Trump -- who enacted an immigration policy widely decried as a "Muslim ban" that he says he'll bring back with a vengeance if elected -- is enough to dissuade voters like Zahr.

"We're not going to respond to the lesser of two evils argument, we are going to reject that," he said, adding: "We're not going to be held responsible for the alternative."

Samra'a Luqman, a 41-year-old community organizer who co-chairs the "Abandon Biden" movement in Michigan, went further, suggesting some of the community may vote for Trump in protest.

"The goal is ultimately not just to abandon Biden, but to ensure that we oust Biden," she told AFP -- adding that she was still proud of some Democrats, including Hammoud and congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.

*This story has been edited by Ahram Online

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