Dearborn mayor and other top 'Arab America' officials refuse to meet Biden campaign

Mayor of Dearborn, Michigan, tells The National that his constituents feel disrespected by President Joe Biden's policy on war in Gaza

Abdullah Hammoud was elected mayor of Dearborn, Michigan in 2021, becoming the city’s first Arab-American mayor. Detroit News via AP
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The Mayor of Dearborn, Michigan – the capital of Arab America – said his community declined to meet Joe Biden's re-election team, a reflection of the anger Arab and Muslim Americans feel towards the US President and his handling of the war in Gaza.

Abdullah Hammoud, the city's first Arab-American mayor and a Democrat, said his office and other Arab and Muslim leaders in Dearborn turned down Friday's invitation from Mr Biden's campaign team.

“As the ongoing genocide persists, for us here in the city of Dearborn, for the Muslim-American and Arab-American community, we're trying to have a conversation about policy, not about elections,” Mr Hammoud told the National.

“So we find that disrespectful and dehumanising when they're sending campaign staff to see to it as if this is some sort of transactional electoral problem.”

Michigan, home to one of the largest Arab-American populations in the US, is a key battleground state.

It is also one that overwhelmingly turned out for Mr Biden in 2020, helping him to clinch victory.

But Mr Biden, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has had a significant loss of support among Arab Americans since Israel's war on Gaza began on October 7.

A recent poll conducted by the Arab American Institute found that 17 per cent of Arabs now support him, down from 59 per cent.

Last week, Mr Biden brushed off losing the support of the community, suggesting there was still time to turn things around before the election.

He has been a staunch supporter of Israel in its military campaign in Gaza and has refused to call for a ceasefire, despite widespread demands and nationwide protests.

He bypassed Congress to approve emergency weapons sales to the country and has questioned the number of Palestinian civilian casualties in Gaza.

Arab Americans were particularly incensed when this month, in a statement marking the 100 days of war on Gaza, Mr Biden made no mention of the thousands of Palestinian civilians killed in the conflict.

“Dearborn is the result of poor foreign policy decisions,” said Mr Hammoud, the son of Lebanese immigrants.

“And so we are a beautifully diverse, large Lebanese, Yemeni, Iraqi, Syrian and Palestinian community,” he said. “And they feel betrayed.

“I feel like we're being asked to dehumanise ourselves and just solely look at this as a political problem. And I'm not prepared to do that.”

Since October 7, more than 26,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed by Israeli bombardments on Gaza, in response to Hamas's attacks in Israel in which 1,200 people were killed.

Most of the coastal enclave's 2.3 million residents have been displaced to the southern city of Khan Younis where Israel is launching strikes, and where they have been facing severe shortages in food and water, and in access to medical care.

The Biden administration has been increasingly calling on the Israeli government, led by right-wing President Benjamin Netanyahu, to scale down its attacks and allow more humanitarian aid in.

But Mr Biden has stopped short of applying direct pressure on Israel or conditioning military aid.

He has cast his campaign as being against former president Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee who has vowed to ban the entry of many Muslims to the US if he is elected back in office.

Mr Trump refused to accept his election loss in 2020.

“The former president wants to put a ban on Arabs coming into the country,” Mr Biden said last week, conflating Arabs with Muslims.

“We’ll make sure that we understand who cares about the Arab population.”

Arab and Muslim Americans in Michigan and elsewhere have historically leaned towards the Democrats, but in recent weeks have been campaigning against Mr Biden, and communities across the US have vowed not to vote for him.

This could spell disaster for Mr Biden, especially in Michigan, the state he won by 3 percentage points – 154,000 votes – in 2020.

Records show that Michigan is home to about 200,000 Muslim voters and 300,000 people who claim ancestry in the Middle East and North Africa.

Mr Hammoud said several residents had been trapped in Gaza when the war erupted and had to be evacuated by the State Department, and several others have lost relatives.

One resident, he said, lost his two grandmothers, who were trapped under the rubble for days.

Mr Hammoud says he keeps thinking about the UN Women report this month that said two mothers have been killed every hour in Gaza since the start of the war.

“For me, the primary hat I'm wearing right now is just another Dearbonite, Muslim, Arab American, and a father of two,” he said.

“And it's hard. In our community our mothers mean the world. We respect our mothers, we dignify our mothers.

“We said no to this campaign because I have to go back and face them.”

Updated: January 29, 2024, 5:37 AM