Arab Americans in Michigan urged to vote 'uncommitted' in primary over Biden's Gaza policy

'Listen to Michigan' campaign calls on community to show disapproval with their vote in state Democratic primary

Supporters of the campaign to vote 'uncommitted' rally in support of Palestinians in Gaza, before Michigan’s Democratic presidential primary election. Reuters
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Arab Americans in the battleground state of Michigan will head to the polls on Tuesday for their primary elections, with many planning to cast an “uncommitted” protest vote over President Joe Biden’s handling of the Israel-Gaza war.

Campaign organisers with a group called Listen to Michigan hope the move will capture the White House’s attention in a must-win state for the general election in November and make it clear that their vote – and Mr Biden’s position on Gaza – could cost him re-election.

In Dearborn, Michigan, the capital of Arab America, residents say they are angry over Mr Biden’s continued support for Israel and his refusal to call for a ceasefire in the months-long war in Gaza.

They have been asking members of the community to vote “uncommitted”.

“Voting uncommitted was created out of this frustration and discontent with the Biden administration’s support for the aggression on Gaza and the military funding to Israel,” Layla Elabed, a manager with the Listen to Michigan campaign, told The National.

“The primary goal is to send a message to Joe Biden that we need a ceasefire now.”

The group has set up a website, social media accounts, phone banking events and canvassing efforts across the state.

They have received support from elected Democratic officials, including Dearborn’s Mayor Abdullah Hammoud and Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.

“We want to send a message to Mr Biden and the Democratic Party that if you don't change your policies, we will not vote for you,” Sam Alasri, of the Yemeni American Public Affairs Council, told The National.

“We are here, and we could be with you, or against you.”

Four years ago, the vast majority of Arab Americans in the state came out in support of Mr Biden in the general election, helping him to victory.

Michigan is one of a handful of “swing” or purple states, which are won by small margins every election.

The Republican Party is associated with the colour red while the Democrats are blue.

In US primary elections, voters get to select their party’s nominee in the general election, and Mr Biden, who is running for re-election, is essentially the uncontested candidate for the Democratic Party.

But the uncommitted vote could serve as a litmus test for his standing among a critical voting bloc in a must-win state.

In 2020, Mr Biden swung the state Democratic by about 154,000 votes.

In 2016, former president Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee for this election, won it by a little more than 10,000 votes – the number of uncommitted votes the campaign is hoping to get.

Michigan is home to about 500,000 Arab Americans who say they feel betrayed by Mr Biden over his support for Israel since October 7, when Israel launched a punishing military campaign on Gaza in response to a Hamas attack that killed about 1,200 people, according to authorities.

“Genocide Joe has got to go,” demonstrators often chant during protests.

Mr Biden has expressed his solid support for Israel and bypassed Congress twice to approve emergency weapons sales to the country.

He has also questioned the number of Palestinian civilian casualties in Gaza and his administration has vetoed three resolutions at the UN Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire.

In the more than four months of the war, about 29,700 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, most of them civilians, according to local health authorities.

The impact has been personal and deeply felt in Dearborn, where dozens of residents have lost relatives in Israeli strikes on Gaza, and where dozens of others had to be evacuated with the help of the State Department in the weeks after the war broke out.

Mr Biden is also facing another campaign called Abandon Biden, whose supporters in Michigan have pledged not to vote for him over his policies in Gaza, no matter what happens between now and November.

“President Biden, respectfully, has not encouraged people to be in his camp – especially in the way he handled international affairs in Gaza and the expansion of wars elsewhere,” Mahmoud Al Hadidi, chairman of the Michigan Muslim Community Council, told The National.

“He acts like he doesn’t care.”

Mr Al Hadidi says most Muslim and Arab Americans do not want to see Mr Trump – who has vowed to reinstate and expand travel bans on several Muslim-majority countries – 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 said.

“Respectfully, I would like him to wake up and listen to the cries of children and civilians and his constituents who supported him.”

Mr Biden has said that he has personally been working hard on a temporary humanitarian pause in fighting in Gaza, to secure the release of hostages and allow the entry of more aid into the enclave.

This month, he sent a group of senior officials to Dearborn to meet Muslim and Arab-American leaders.

“Obviously, we know that this has been a difficult time and the President cares very deeply,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Polls show that discontent over Mr Biden's handling of the Israel-Gaza war extends beyond Muslim and Arab Americans.

A new poll conducted in Michigan by Epic-MRA found that 53 per cent of US voters want a ceasefire in Gaza.

Among Democrats, nearly three quarters – 74 per cent – said they supported a ceasefire.

The same poll found Mr Biden trailing Mr Trump by 4 percentage points in Michigan, with 14 per cent of respondents still undecided.

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