Biden’s gamble with Arab voters

Sahar Zahran in Washingtom DC , Tuesday 13 Feb 2024

The Israeli war on Gaza is reshaping the preferences of Arab and Muslim voters in this year’s US presidential elections, writes Sahar Zahran in Washington

Biden s gamble with Arab voters

 

The Israeli war on the Gaza Strip, which commenced on 7 October last year, has not only affected the Middle East region but has also spilled over into the US presidential elections, altering the inclinations of Arab and Muslimvoters away from supporting Democratic President Joe Biden, who is seeking a second term in the White House this November.

Biden’s promises, articulated during his 2020 election campaign, to end the ban on citizens of Islamic countries entering the US upon assuming office, and his attempt to court Muslims and urge them to join the electoral battle, will not resonate in 2024 after his administration’s supportive stance towards Israel in its war on Gaza.

The war serves as an indicator of the shifting voices of Arab-American voters, culminating in the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) ruling requiring Israel to take measures to prevent genocide in Gaza and to stop directly inciting it. This was the first ICJ ruling against Israel for its crimes against the Palestinians.

More than 26,000 people have fallen victim to the ongoing Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip, with over 62,000 wounded since 7 October, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

According to John Dabiz, president of the Palestinian Council in the US, the Biden administration’s stance on the genocide in Gaza comes at a political cost. There are coordinated efforts among some leaders of Arab and Palestinian institutions in the US to adopt a unified position against the Bidenadministration in the November elections, he said.

“Overall, the trend is against supporting President Biden in the upcoming elections, and voters are leaning towards supporting Congressional candidates who have pushed for an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire in the war,” Dabiz said.

Dabiz justified the stance taken against Biden and his administration by pointing to its hostile positions towards the Arab community and particularly the Palestinian community. The Bidenadministration has taken a clear stance against Palestine, he said, deciding to defy the world in its blind support for Israel by using the US veto in the UN Security Council against a ceasefire resolution and repeating the same move in the UN General Assembly.

The US has become globally isolated and has lost its moral reputation due to its blind support for Israel’s acts of genocide and starvation, he said, affirming a new trend of not voting for Biden in the upcoming presidential elections among Arab-Americans. Palestinian and Arab voices in US swing states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia had a significant impact on Biden’s success in 2020, he added.

Paul Salem, president of the Middle East Institute in Washington, pointed to the decline in the support for Biden in the upcomingelections due to the positions of the administration during the Gaza war.

“Arab-Americans have reduced their support for Biden,”Salem said, explaining that the strong support Biden enjoyed from Arab-Americans before the Gaza war has now witnessed a noticeable decline.

Regarding the stance of non-Arab Democratic Party youth, Salem said that the impacts of the war go beyond racial groups and extend to leftist movements in the US as a whole, reflecting a comprehensive response to events in the Middle East.

He noted that Arab-Americans find themselves in a real dilemma, as while their support for Biden diminishes, they face the real possibility of seeing the re-election of a competitor with more stringent positions against the Palestinians and closer to the Israeli right, namely former US president Donald Trump.

Several local Arab-American leaders have refused invitations to meet with Julie Chavez Rodriguez, Biden’s campaign manager. Among them was Mayor Abdullah Hammoud of Dearborn in Michigan, the first Arab-American and Muslim mayor of the city and representing one of the largest Muslim population hubs in the country.

“Change has become imperative... If President Joe Biden wants to have a genuine conversation about changing the course of his foreign policy and the decisions he has made regarding advocating for a ceasefire in Gaza, then we can meet,” Hammoud said.

James Zogby, president of the Arab- American Institute in Washington, emphasises that the current US administration’s stance is having a huge impact on the political leanings of Arab-Americans in the 2024 elections. According topolls, while Biden won 59 per cent of Arab-American votes in the 2020 US elections, the current polls indicate that only 17 per cent will support him in 2024, with the main reason being the Gaza issue.

Zogby debunked other reasons for the shift in Arab-American political affiliations over three decades of support from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party by stating that “we have been monitoring Arab-American trends for three decades, and the initial decades showed Arabs leaning towards the Democratic Party by a slight margin.”

“However, current results indicate a reversal of these dynamics, with 32 per cent of Arab-Americans now aligning with Republicans, while support for Democrats has dropped to 23 per cent.”

“The big question remains about how these dynamics will shape the American political landscape in 2024,” Zogby said.

In Minnesota, a campaign to abandon Biden was launched after a group of US Muslim citizens urged the Democratic Party president to call for an immediate ceasefire by 31 October last year. When Biden failed to respond to these calls, the group pledged to launch a campaign against him.

At least 146,620 out of 200,000 Muslim American voters in Michigan cast their votes in the 2020 election, according to an analysis by Emgage, an organisation intended to mobilise Muslim American voters. In 2020, Biden won Michigan by a three-point margin over Trump, whereas four years earlier Trump won the state against Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton by a two per cent margin.

Political analyst Nabil Mikhail anticipates Biden losing the support of Arabs and Muslims in the upcoming elections, a sentiment echoed by Arab and Muslim community leaders elsewhere in the US. Mikhail pointed to Biden’s supportive policy towards Israel in the events in Gaza as enhancing formerpresident Trump’s chances of winning in November.

In a development that could impact the election results, he warned that the withdrawal of Arab and Muslim support for Biden could lead to his losing the states of Michigan and Minnesota in the November elections, a significant blow given the large numbers of these communities in these states.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 15 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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