In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden over support for Israel

‘Vote for Palestine. No Biden’: Campaigners, angry at US president for his handling of the war, are not concerned by possibility that Republican Trump might win White House instead

A Palestinian flag is displayed at a home in Dearborn, Michigan, on February 15, 2024. (Bastien INZAURRALDE / AFP)
A Palestinian flag is displayed at a home in Dearborn, Michigan, on February 15, 2024. (Bastien INZAURRALDE / AFP)

DEARBORN, Michigan, United States — It’s common to hear residents chatting in Arabic just as often as English in this Detroit suburb’s stores or mosques, the buildings themselves often sporting bilingual signage out front.

But no matter the language, residents in this Arab American and Muslim stronghold in the Midwestern state of Michigan are convinced US President Joe Biden, as he steadfastly stands by Israel in its war on Palestinian terror group Hamas in Gaza, is not listening to them.

“Vote for Palestine. No Biden,” political organizer Samra’a Luqman says in English, passing out fliers outside a mosque after prayers.

“Don’t vote for Biden,” the activist with Yemeni origins adds in Arabic.

“Of course,” respond many passersby.

As the Gaza Strip death toll climbs, residents here — once firmly in the Democratic fold — are turning against the president in a crucial swing state he won by just 150,000 votes in 2020.

US President Joe Biden speaks at Culver City Julian Dixon Library in Culver City, California, February 21, 2024. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Some are hoping to pressure Biden to back off from his Israel support and call for a ceasefire. Others, like Luqman, say they would never vote for him.

“He’s committing the genocide. He’s funding it,” Luqman, a campaign leader with a group called Abandon Biden, tells AFP.

A campaign is underway by Luqman and others urging voters to vote “uncommitted,” or write in “Free Palestine” on their ballots in the state’s primary next week — a symbolic gesture, since Biden faces no serious challengers for the Democratic nomination.

“This is a campaign about pressuring our current president who can do something about the mass killing of children,” says Abbas Alawieh, a former Democratic chief of staff on Capitol Hill and member of the Listen to Michigan campaign group.

“In this community there are a lot of people who are directly harmed by war,” the Lebanese-born Alawieh tells AFP.

Biden, he says, “is threatening to lose this community. Not just in November, but perhaps for a generation to come.”

Samra’a Luqman (R) hands out fliers outside of the American Moslem Society Mosque to ask voters not to vote for US President Joe Biden after Friday prayers in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, on February 16, 2024. (JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP)

If not Biden… Trump?

The war started when Hamas launched its massive October 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people amid horrific atrocities including widespread gang rape, torture, and mutilation of victims. The 3,000 attackers from the Gaza Strip who burst through the border to rampage murderously through southern Israel also abducted 253 people of all ages — including the elderly, infirm, and infants — who were taken as hostages to Gaza.

Israel responded with a military campaign to destroy Hamas, topple its regime in Gaza, and free the hostages.

But concern has mounted over the high civilian toll. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry has said that more than 29,000 people have been killed since the start of the war, although these figures cannot be independently verified and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

The IDF says it has killed over 12,000 Hamas operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7. Israel accuses Hamas of using Gaza’s residents as human shields and embedding its forces in civilian areas, increasing the toll among noncombatants.

Listen to Michigan began as a pressure campaign, but some voters say their frustration with the president is permanent.

Voting for Biden was the “worst mistake of my life,” says Mohamed Alemara, a 23-year-old medical student of Iraqi descent.

“You don’t kill 30,000 of our people and expect us to vote for you,” he said.

Abbas Alawieh, political strategist for the Listen to Michigan campaign, speaks during an interview with AFP in Detroit, Michigan, on February 14, 2024. (Bastien INZAURRALDE / AFP)

Arab Americans’ vows to ditch Biden often baffle liberal political pundits.

What will Muslims and Arabs do, the thinking goes — vote for Donald Trump, the Republican behind the “Muslim ban” immigration policy, whose supporters flirt with ideas like “Christian nationalism”?

“We’re not a stupid community,” says Luqman. “I’ve survived a Muslim ban, but those kids in Gaza have not survived Joe Biden.”

“My intention is not to vote in an Islamophobe, another genocidal maniac,” she adds. Yet she tells AFP, “the only way I would vote for Biden is if he resurrected” the Gaza dead.

In America’s two-party system, where voters often hold their nose to pick candidates they don’t back 100 percent, 27-year-old nurse Fatima Elzaghir says that “at this point, the lesser evil is Trump.”

Others, like Alawieh, reject the premise of the question.

“How dare you come to me and say, ‘Oh, but later, Trump will be your fault,'” he says.

“Call your representative. Tell them you want a ceasefire…. Once we stop the bloodshed, then we can talk about the political consequences.”

Mohamed Alemara, a medical student, speaks during an interview with AFP in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, on February 14, 2024. (Bastien INZAURRALDE / AFP)

Union split

Biden will also have to deal with Michigan’s unions — where some are defecting from the labor-friendly president’s camp.

Many union and working-class voters already support Republicans, drawn in by their conservative social policies.

But for Merwan Beydoun, a steel mill worker and member of the United Autoworkers Union, Gaza was the breaking point.

“Furious” at Biden, whom the UAW endorsed, Beydoun stopped his contributions to the union’s political arm.

Merwan Beydoun discusses the upcoming Michigan 2024 US Presidential primary election at his shop in Dearborn Heights , Michigan on February 15, 2024. (JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP)

Beydoun says he still believes “in a lot of Democratic policies” and would rather not say how he’ll vote in November. But to earn Beydoun’s vote, the president “needs to wake up” and “change his ways.”

The Biden administration has tried to assuage Arab and Muslim voters’ concerns in part by portraying the president as frustrated with Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Biden has also reportedly sent senior aides to Michigan to meet with Arab American and Muslim leaders.

But US weapons have flowed to Israel since October 7, while Washington’s efforts to broker a second pause in fighting have failed, and on Tuesday the US blocked a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire.

“My intention is to punish Biden for what he’s doing now,” says Luqman. “For the betrayal that he’s done to me and all the community members that have voted for him.”

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