'Not welcome here': Muslim and Arab Americans in Michigan protest against Biden

Key 2024 presidential election battleground state is home to one of US's largest Arab American populations

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Waving placards reading “Abandon Biden,” dozens of Muslim and Arab Americans in Dearborn, Michigan, gathered in a school auditorium where they made fiery speeches, chanted and denounced President Joe Biden over his handling of the war in Gaza.

Mariam Tout, a social worker, drove from Ann Arbor, a city 40 minutes away, to attend the event. She said her husband is Palestinian-American and has family in Gaza who he has not heard from in a month.

She blames this squarely on Mr Biden's policies.

“There is nothing that Biden can come here and say to us as an empty platitude to try to win our votes back,” Ms Tout told the National on Wednesday.

“It's all going to be really disrespectful,” she added.

Mr Biden, who is running for re-election in November, is due to visit the battleground state on Thursday, where he will meet members of the United Auto Workers union, who endorsed the Democratic incumbent last week.

But residents of Dearborn say Mr Biden is not welcome in the capital of Arab America.

“He is not welcome in our community,” said Amer Zahr, a Palestinian-American comedian and political activist.

“We are still and we will remain angry and it's irredeemable,” Mr Zahr told the National. “The relationship is broken.”

Michigan is home to one of the largest Arab American populations in the US. It is also a key battleground state, and a must-win for Mr Biden in the 2024 presidential election.

In 2020, Muslim and Arab Americans overwhelmingly voted for Mr Biden, helping him clinch victory.

But since Israel's war on Gaza began on October 7, support for him has dwindled.

“He has no hope of ever getting a single vote from our community,” said Nasser Beydoun, who is running for the US Senate in Michigan.

“I don't want my President to be complicit in a genocide,” Mr Beydoun told the crowd.

“Michigan is gonna make or break this election.”

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

In 2020, Mr Biden won the state by three percentage points, or 154,000 votes.

I don't want my President to be complicit in a genocide
Nasser Beydoun, candidate for US Senate

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.

Last week, 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 an invitation from Mr Biden's campaign team.

Residents of Dearborn say not only do they not want to meet Mr Biden or vote for him, they also want to ensure he does not win a second term in office.

But with the election still 10 months away, community organisers say they have not yet decided if they should support a third-party candidate, encourage voters to write in a protest message on their ballots, or stay at home.

A major issue is the fact that Mr Biden is likely to face Donald Trump, the former president and presumptive Republican candidate.

While in office Mr Trump passed legislation that barred nationals from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the US. He has vowed to reinstate those bans if he is re-elected.

Four years ago, Adam Abu Salah, a Palestinian-American, went door-to-door in Dearborn and in the wider Wayne County to campaign for Mr Biden. He engaged the Arab American community and argued that he would be better for America and for Arab Americans than Mr Trump. He even convinced his elderly relatives to vote for Mr Biden.

“I feel disappointed and betrayed,” Mr Abu Salah told The National.

“This is somebody I knocked on doors for, this is somebody I went to our community and said please vote for this guy – he's better for us,” he said. “And look what he's done to us.”

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

He has said that he supports Israel's right to defend itself and its stated aim of destroying Hamas, the group that attacked Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people.

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

Arab Americans say they were particularly incensed by Mr Biden's questioning of casualties in Gaza, and by a statement last month marking 100 days of the war in Gaza that made no mention of the thousands of Palestinian civilians killed in the conflict.

Israel's bombardment of Gaza has killed about 27,000 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians. Most of the coastal enclave's 2.3 million residents have been displaced to the southern city of Khan Younis, where they face severe shortages of food, water, shelter and access to medical care.

“The President's going to continue to believe that Israel has a right to defend itself,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Wednesday when asked by reporters if Mr Biden's policy in Gaza would alienate Arab Americans.

“And of course we are heart-broken about seeing innocent Palestinians being caught up in the middle of that, and of course we understand how folks are feeling in the community,” she said.

“We cannot forget what happened on that day [October 7], and what has led to where we are today.”

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

Mr Zahr says Dearborn's residents are unlikely to forget Mr Biden's actions, even if there is a ceasefire soon.

Several residents were trapped in the blockaded territory for weeks before they were evacuated by the State Department, and many more have lost relatives.

“They asked us in 2020 to save America from Donald Trump and now we have realised that we need to save Palestine from Joe Biden,” Mr Zahr said. “And so that's what we're gonna do.”

Updated: February 02, 2024, 4:34 AM