Biden collides with anger from the Arab community on his path to re-election |

Dima Hassan, a Palestinian born in Damascus, had to flee Syria in 2012 with her family after the start of the war. She settled in the Dearborn area of ​​Michigan, the state with the largest proportion of Arab population in the United States. In September she obtained American citizenship. Days later, just as she was making plans to travel to the West Bank for the first time, war broke out in Gaza. This 28-year-old bricklayer is now dedicating her efforts to trying to convince Michigan residents not to vote for President Joe Biden in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, but to check the “undeclared” box, similar to a blank vote.

“It is very difficult to see how your people die on television, how yours are being annihilated. “You think, ‘Am I going to be one of the few left alive?'” she explains, dressed in the red, green, white and black of the Palestinian flag during a protest demonstration in Hamtramck, one of the cities on the outskirts of Detroit that grew in the golden age of the automobile industry. In November, she will be able to vote for the first time as an American citizen. “Of course Biden is not going to have my vote. Not until she treats the Palestinians the same as the Israelis, until she commits to a permanent ceasefire,” she insists.

Voters like Hassan have turned this Tuesday’s primaries in Michigan into a litmus test to see to what extent Biden’s positions on the war in Gaza and his support for Israel – last week the United States vetoed a draft resolution of the Council of UN Security Council calling for a permanent and immediate ceasefire – have affected the support he receives among key Democratic sectors, especially among young people, the progressive wing of the party and the Arab American community. A survey by the progressive center Data for Progress showed in November that 66% of Americans and 70% of Democratic voters under 45 support a permanent ceasefire.

Michigan, with 10 million inhabitants, has 300,000 voters of Maghreb or Middle Eastern origin, and another 200,000 Muslims from other regions. Enough, Arab community leaders argue, to make a difference in a key hinge state, which in 2016 leaned towards Donald Trump by just 10,000 votes and which in 2020 supported Biden by 150,000 votes. Without Arab support, which leaned overwhelmingly (64%) toward Biden, the Democrat cannot win the State, activists maintain. And without that State, the path to continuing in the White House will be very complicated.

It is an asset that campaigns like “Listen to Michigan” (“Listen to Michigan”), launched by Arab American activists in the Dearborn area, where a good part of that community is concentrated (55% of its residents have their roots in Lebanon, Yemen and other Arab countries in the Middle East) . According to its founder, community organizer Layla Elabed—sister of the only congresswoman of Palestinian origin in the US Capitol, Rashida Tlaib—the campaign seeks to get Democratic voters, instead of supporting Biden, to vote “not declared.” in Michigan, in protest against US policy in the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict and to demand a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. The minimum goal they have set is 10,000, the number that gave Trump victory eight years ago.

Immediate ceasefire

“It is the most democratic protest we can do. Let’s vote, and mobilize the vote. Let as many people as possible go vote. But let people vote ‘not declared’, to send Biden the message that we will not be complicit in a genocide paid for with money from our taxes,” explains Elabed. “Ours is a protest vote, humanitarian, to save as many lives as we can. We need a ceasefire now,” she adds, surrounded by Palestinian flags and signs with slogans such as “end the occupation” or “freedom for Palestine,” moments before the demonstration begins in Hamtramck.

The community organizer assures that hers is not an exclusively Arab-American movement. “Listen to Michigann” has already contacted more than 100,000 people throughout the State. Also participating in the demonstration are Jewish voters, young white students and some Latinos, like Mike Flores, who assures that he has come to “support the demands of a ceasefire for the Palestinian people.” Its founders also do not want Biden’s defeat in November, they say, but rather to give him a wake-up call, to “understand that he needs our votes” in the presidential elections and to support a ceasefire that prevents more deaths in a conflict with more than 30,000 Palestinians. deceased.

Listen to Michigan founder Layla Elabed at the Hamtramck rally.Macarena Vidal Liy

“On Tuesday we hope to show that we are in a state where every vote matters, where the margins are very narrow and Biden needs every vote he can get. We want a permanent ceasefire, not a temporary fix. And if not, Biden risks giving the presidency to Trump and his cronies in November,” explains Abbas Alawieh, campaign spokesperson and former advisor in Congress. And he rejects that his campaign is favoring a Trump victory in November. “When the war started, we kept quiet because they told us we could harm Biden. A month later we are still silent. And we are silent in December. But people continue to die in Gaza. Children. If someone is so concerned that Trump could win, let him support us so that Biden changes his policy and stops losing votes in Michigan.”

Other parallel campaigns do defend Biden’s defeat in November as punishment for what they consider unconditional support for Israel. The movement “Abandon Biden” aspires not to vote for the Democrat in the November elections in states such as New Jersey, Virginia or Minnesota, with a significant Arab population. The president “can do the right thing. He can stop this war. He may call for sanctions against the Israeli Government. He can ask that they be tried for war crimes. He can declare it a genocide. But he is not going to do it,” one of the leaders of this campaign, Khalid Turaani, considered in a recent conversation.

Given the unrest of this community – evident in conversations on streets dominated by signs in Arabic, in cafes or in restaurants – several senior officials from the White House and the Biden campaign have traveled to Michigan to meet with Arab American leaders. Among them, Julie Chávez, the campaign director, and the number two on the National Security Council, Jon Finer.

The conversations, as confirmed by several of their participants, were tense. “Unless we see a change in policy toward Gaza, where a permanent ceasefire is accepted, we don’t want to talk again,” said Abraham Aiyash, a Democratic congressman in the Michigan state legislature, in a conversation at a Hamtramck coffee shop. on Sunday. A meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris was canceled at the last minute.

Biden has not traveled to Michigan in this last stretch of the campaign. He did do so on February 1, when he attended an event with the UAW, one of the main union centers that has already expressed its electoral support. Harris visited the State last week, as part of her tour to defend reproductive rights, but limited herself to participating in a round table without a general audience.

In recent weeks, the president has made a certain turn in his position. He has publicly described the Israeli government’s behavior in Gaza as having “gone overboard.” He has imposed sanctions against Jewish settlers who have attacked Palestinians in the West Bank. He has warned against an offensive on Rafah, the latest city to be attacked in the Strip. And this same Monday he announced that a temporary ceasefire could be underway in less than a week.

The White House assures that Biden is working to earn “every vote in Michigan.” A statement from his campaign noted that the president “works closely and proudly with leaders in the Muslim, Arab-American and Palestinian communities,” and has “urged Israel to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties” in the war.

The governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, warned on Sunday in an interview with CNN that the “undeclared” vote “favors a second term for Trump.” But she also admitted that she was not sure what could happen this Tuesday.

Dima Hassan, who will spend Tuesday handing out leaflets and visiting polling stations, insists: “Don’t let Biden have my vote until there is a permanent ceasefire.”

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