Arab Americans won't be blackmailed by threats of a Trump presidency

Many recoil at the idea of Donald Trump's return to the White House but voter anger at Washington's position on Gaza could cost Joe Biden dearly

By refusing to endorse US President Joe Biden at this week's Michigan primary, many Arab Americans have made it plain that their support is not to be taken for granted. Reuters
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One of the striking things about the electoral rebuke delivered to Joe Biden by thousands of Arab-American voters in Michigan’s Democratic primary this week was that their protest was recorded as “uncommitted” votes. This is something of a misnomer.

Across the state, grassroots campaigners worked day and night to channel anger over Washington’s blanket support for Israel and continuing refusal to call for a ceasefire in Gaza into a significant electoral protest that won more than double the votes of the two other Democratic candidates combined. Protest votes exceeded organisers' expectations, with more than 97,000 votes, figures by Edison Research showed. These early results are nine times more than the target of 10,000 votes. This was an engaged and motivated slice of the American electorate having their say, and Democratic Party strategists would do well to pay heed.

This is because Mr Biden remains neck-and-neck with Donald Trump in nationwide opinion polls ahead of November’s presidential election. Despite Mr Biden’s many domestic achievements, such as lowering drug costs, enacting the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and reducing the number of Americans without health insurance by about six million, victory is still far from assured. Michigan is one of a handful of swing states, which are won by small margins every election. Muslim and Arab Americans, who make up about 5 per cent of Michigan voters, overwhelmingly voted for Mr Biden in 2020, helping him clinch victory in the critical battleground state. He won the state by 3 percentage points. A slip up by Democrats here could spell trouble for Mr Biden’s re-election hopes.

Inside the Arab American campaign to unseat US President Joe Biden in 2024

Inside the Arab American campaign to unseat US President Joe Biden in 2024

Arab-American voters have made it plain that their support is not to be taken for granted. Despite overwhelmingly backing Mr Biden in 2020, the prospect of another Trump presidency – raised by some Democratic activists unhappy with the “Abandon Biden” campaign – will not blackmail conscientious voters into blindly supporting Mr Biden. Mr Trump’s previous policies include the so-called Muslim ban, an odious piece of legislation that the likely Republican candidate says he will renew to block refugees from Gaza entering the US. The fact that this is still not enough to persuade many Arab-American voters to endorse Mr Biden’s candidacy should be a wake-up call for his party.

Mr Biden’s team will try and play the result down, but it forms part of wider American unease over the continuing violence in Gaza that has cost tens of thousands of civilian lives; many American voters understand that their country is a major supplier of military aid to Israel. Results this week from a Data for Progress think tank survey of more than 1,200 likely US voters show that 57 per cent of respondents disapproved of Mr Biden’s handling of the Gaza crisis, an increase since Data for Progress started polling this question in early November. This shows that Mr Biden is shedding support before November, not gaining it.

Nevada is the only US state with an “uncommitted” option for presidential elections. Given this, if there is no rethink in Washington’s unconditional backing of Israel’s war in Gaza, Arab-Americans and many other citizens angry at their country’s role in the conflict may just stay home on Election Day. It is this potential drop in turnout that is giving Democratic Party grandees sleepless nights.

There is still time for a course correct. Mahmoud Al Hadidi, chairman of the Michigan Muslim Community Council, told The National this week that most Muslim and Arab Americans do not want to see Mr Trump back in the White House. “The majority would like to see President Biden wake up and do something right in the next few months,” he added.

Whatever happens next, Mr Biden’s team cannot claim that Palestine was a non-issue in this presidential election. To stop losing these crucial votes, the White House must try harder. That means changing its relationship with Israel to one characterised by accountability, not impunity.

Published: February 29, 2024, 3:00 AM
Updated: March 06, 2024, 11:28 AM