Arab American voters in Michigan vow to 'punish' Biden for supporting Israeli war on Gaza

AFP , Thursday 22 Feb 2024

It's common to hear residents chatting in Arabic just as often as English in this Detroit suburb's stores, buildings often sporting bilingual signage out front.

Arab voters
Samra a Luqman (R) hands out fliers outside of the American Moslem Society Mosque to ask voters not to vote for President Joe Biden after Friday prayers in Dearborn Heights, Michigan on February 16, 2024. AFP


But no matter the language, residents in this Arab American and Muslim stronghold in the Midwestern state of Michigan are convinced President Joe Biden, who continues to stand by Israel's brutal Gaza war, is not listening to them.

"Vote for Palestine. No Biden," political organizer Samra'a Luqman says in English, passing out fliers outside a mosque after prayers.

"Don't vote for Biden," the activist with Yemeni origins adds in Arabic.

"Of course," respond many passersby.

As the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip continues to incur a heavy toll on civilian lives, mostly women and children, residents here -- once firmly in the Democratic fold -- are turning against the president in a crucial swing state he won by just 150,000 votes in 2020.

Some are hoping to pressure Biden to call for a ceasefire in Gaza and back off from his Israel support that has been unrelenting in the face of mounting evidence of Israeli war crimes and genocidal intent against Palestinians.

Others, like Luqman, say they would never vote for him.

"He's committing the genocide. He's funding it," Luqman, a campaign leader with a group called Abandon Biden, tells AFP.

A campaign is underway by Luqman and others urging voters to vote "uncommitted," or write in "Free Palestine" on their ballots in the state's primary next week.

"This is a campaign about pressuring our current president who can do something about the mass killing of children," says Abbas Alawieh, a former Democratic chief of staff on Capitol Hill and member of the Listen to Michigan campaign group.

"In this community there are a lot of people who are directly harmed by war," the Lebanese-born Alawieh tells AFP.

Biden, he says, "is threatening to lose this community. Not just in November, but perhaps for a generation to come."

If not Biden... Trump?

Concern has mounted amid the high civilian toll of the war on Gaza, now at 29,313 Palestinians killed by Israel since October.

Listen to Michigan began as a pressure campaign, but some voters say their frustration with the president is permanent.

Voting for Biden was the "worst mistake of my life," says Mohamed Alemara, a 23-year-old medical student of Iraqi descent.

"You don't kill 30,000 people and expect us to vote for you."

Arab Americans' vows to ditch Biden have surprised liberal political pundits.

What will Muslims and Arabs do, the thinking goes -- vote for Donald Trump, the Republican behind the "Muslim ban" immigration policy, an executive order banning travel from several Muslim-majority countries.

"We're not a stupid community," says Luqman. "I've survived a Muslim ban, but those kids in Gaza have not survived Joe Biden."

"My intention is not to vote in an Islamophobe, another genocidal maniac," she adds. Yet she tells AFP, "the only way I would vote for Biden is if he resurrected" the Gazans killed.

In America's two-party system, where voters often hold their nose to pick candidates they don't back 100 percent, 27-year-old nurse Fatima Elzaghir says that "at this point, the lesser evil is Trump."

Others, like Alawieh, reject the premise of the question.

"How dare you come to me and say, 'Oh, but later, Trump will be your fault,'" he says.

"Call your representative. Tell them you want a ceasefire.... Once we stop the bloodshed, then we can talk about the political consequences."

Union split

Biden will also have to deal with Michigan's unions -- where some are defecting from the labor-friendly president's camp.

Many union and working class voters already support Republicans, drawn in by their conservative social policies.

But for Merwan Beydoun, a steel mill worker and member of the United Autoworkers Union, Gaza was the breaking point.

"Furious" at Biden, whom the UAW endorsed, Beydoun stopped his contributions to the union's political arm.

Beydoun says he still believes "in a lot of Democratic policies" and would rather not say how he'll vote in November. But to earn Beydoun's vote, the president "needs to wake up" and "change his ways."

The Biden administration has tried to assuage Arab and Muslim voters' concerns in part by portraying the president as frustrated with Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

But US weapons have flowed to Israel since October 7, which Israel has used to target hospitals, UN-run schools and designated "safe areas" where 85 percent of Gazans displaced by Israel's war seek shelter, while Washington's efforts to broker a second pause in Israel's relentless bombing of the Palestinian territory have failed, and on Tuesday the US blocked a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire.

"My intention is to punish Biden for what he's doing now," says Luqman. "For the betrayal that he's done to me and all the community members that have voted for him."

*This story has been edited by Ahram Online

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