Michigan primary: Thousands of Arab Americans vote 'uncommitted' over Biden's Gaza policy

'I always voted Democrat but I am done,' says one resident of Dearborn

Voters head to primaries in Arab capital of America

Voters head to primaries in Arab capital of America
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Wearing a keffiyeh and a sweatshirt with a watermelon – a fruit that has re-emerged as a popular symbol of solidarity with the Palestinian cause – Mohammad Qazzaz makes his way to the booth to cast his vote in Michigan's primary election.

On his Democratic ballot is President Joe Biden and two other candidates who have little chance of winning this year's party nomination. Mr Qazzaz fills in the fourth bubble, “uncommitted”.

“I voted uncommitted to send a message to Biden: don't take our vote for granted,” Mr Qazzaz told The National.

“There's a genocide happening in front of the whole world and the United States is supporting most of the weapons. How is he allowing this to happen?”

More than 100,000 voters cast uncommitted Democratic ballots - far exceeding organisers' target.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump won the state's Republican primary by a large margin over rival Nikki Haley who come in a distant second.

Four years ago, Mr Qazzaz, like many Arab Americans in Dearborn, the capital of Arab America, came out overwhelmingly in support of Mr Biden, helping him to clinch victory in a must-win state and denying Mr Trump a second term in office.

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

“The word you often hear is betrayal,” Dearborn's Democratic Mayor Abdullah Hammoud told The National after casting his own uncommitted vote.

“We were promised a president in 2020 who wanted to bring back decency, who wanted to lead with humanity – that's not what we currently have in the White House.

“For us, this is a protest vote to demonstrate that [Mr Biden] has to change course or he risks losing the election in November.”

Since the war started more than four months ago, more than 29,800 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, most of them civilians, according to local health authorities.

But 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.

The goal of Listen to Michigan, organisers said, was to get more than 10,000 uncommitted votes – the margin of votes that Mr Trump won in the state back in 2016.

In 2020, Mr Biden won Michigan by about 154,000 votes.

For most Arab Americans, voting for Mr Trump is not an option, as he has promised to reintroduce and expand a ban on the entry of citizens from several Muslim-majority countries, and increase surveillance of Muslim Americans.

“I was proud today to walk in and pull a Democratic ballot and vote uncommitted,” Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American Democratic Congresswoman from Michigan, said in a video released by the Listen to Michigan campaign on Tuesday.

Fatima Alsoufi, 19, went with her parents to vote. All three of them filled in the “uncommitted” bubble.

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

“I don’t usually vote,” Ms Alsoufi, a Yemeni American, told The National.

“But since I saw what’s happening in Palestine it hurts.

“If I vote uncommitted, President Biden will see that our votes matter and hopefully this genocide will stop.”

The White House has so far not commented directly on the uncommitted campaign, but on Tuesday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that the Biden administration is willing to adjust their approach to the conflict.

“We take these conversations very seriously,” Mr Kirby told journalists.

“And without getting into specific details or disclosing some of the things that we've been hearing, we are taking them on board and we are willing to adjust the way we're approaching the conflict and the way we're talking about it to reflect those concerns.”

On Monday, Mr Biden said he hoped a ceasefire in Gaza would be announced by Monday, but warned that it is not yet a done deal.

A pause in the fighting would allow for more hostages to be released and more aid to be taken into the besieged enclave.

Dozens of Palestinian-American residents of Dearborn have lost loved ones in Israeli strikes. Dozens more had relatives or were themselves trapped in Gaza when the war erupted and had to be evacuated by the State Department.

But support for a ceasefire and discontent over Mr Biden's handling of the Israel-Gaza war extends beyond Muslim and Arab Americans, and beyond Michigan.

“We want to stop all the senseless killing in Gaza,” said Jamel Ridgenal, a black American who flew from Virginia Beach, Virginia, to support the campaign.

“I'm a religious and spiritual guy, and I don't believe in senseless killing.”

Some residents of Dearborn said they would never vote for Mr Biden, no matter what happens between now and November.

“I voted uncommitted because what is happening in Palestine is really sad – I don't want to vote for someone with blood on their hands,” Hassan Balhas, a Lebanese American, told The National.

“I always voted Democrat but I am done.”

Updated: February 29, 2024, 5:53 PM