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Some Arab American Voters Aren’t Just ‘Uncommitted’ — They Want Biden to Lose

“[We want] to make him a one-term president and [pair] his loss with the Gaza issue,” one Arab American leader in Michigan said.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators march during a visit by President Joe Biden in Warren, Mich., Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024.
Biden trails Trump in Michigan and needs the support of Arab American voters there. Paul Sancya/AP

Ahead of next week’s Michigan primary, several progressive organizations — and even elected officials like Rep. Rashida Tlaib — are pushing Democrats to vote “uncommitted” instead of voting for President Joe Biden as a way to send a message to the campaign over Biden’s support for Israel.

But some Arab American leaders in the state say there’s nothing he could do at this point to win back their vote.

“[We want] to make him a one-term president and [pair] his loss with the Gaza issue,” Khalid Turaani, co-chair of the Michigan-based Abandon Biden campaign, told NOTUS.

“The only way for our community to be relevant, and to make a difference, and to be listened to for once, is by making Joe Biden lose and making him a one-term president, announcing it, declaring it, doing it and then flaunting it,” he added.

Arguments from Democrats that staying at home will only help Donald Trump — who plans to reinstate a Muslim travel ban should he win again and revoke the student visas of anyone who protests Israel — don’t move Turaani. He said the Abandon Biden campaign has been courting third-party candidates and hopes that “in 10 years, somehow, we can break that monopoly of the two-party system that is really screwing America one way and down the other.”

Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, of Dearborn, Michigan, is one of over 30 legislators to sign on to efforts to vote “uncommitted” in the primary. He wrote in The New York Times on Tuesday he was doing so hoping that Biden would call for an “immediate cease-fire” but “the belief that I and so many others have invested in him dwindles.”

“No amount of landmark legislation can outweigh the more than 100,000 people killed, wounded or missing in Gaza. The scales of justice will not allow it,” he wrote.

Even if Biden calls for a cease-fire, Warren David, co-founder of the Arab America Foundation, told NOTUS that all Biden may get is a few changed minds, and that any chance to bring back a large swath of community support is near impossible.

Others have already settled for a possible Trump presidency, including one Arab American leader who told NOTUS, “That is the plan if we have to suffer 2024 because there is no candidate we can support. We should start working for 2028.”

Lavora Barnes, Michigan Democratic Party chair, told NOTUS in a statement that voters needed “to be clear-eyed about the threat Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans pose to working people and the choice Michiganders will face at the ballot box this November: Our reproductive freedoms, our economic opportunity and our democracy are all on the line.”

Biden won Michigan by a little over 150,000 votes in 2020, and Arab Americans in Michigan — now a crucial battleground state — went for Biden overwhelmingly.

Khalid Turaani, co-chair of the Abandon Biden campaign in Michigan
Khalid Turaani, co-chair of the Abandon Biden campaign in Michigan, said he wants to make Biden a one-term president. Paul Sancya/AP

Frustrations among Arab American voters toward Biden aren’t entirely new. However, leaders said they have become increasingly strained since last October, when Hamas militants attacked Israel, killing or kidnapping more than 1,000 people, and Israel in response launched an ongoing military campaign in Gaza, killing tens of thousands and displacing more than 2 million people.

Some weeks after Hamas attacked Israel, Biden hosted a quiet meeting with Muslim leaders where he asked them about their opinions on policy and messaging. Participants were dismayed that the meeting had “been essentially put under the Muslim American outreach,” according to Abed Ayoub, national executive director at the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee. Earlier that month, Biden had given a forceful televised speech reiterating that the U.S. would “stand with Israel.”

“We’re not talking politics, you know, we’re not talking votes, we’re talking just humanity. Like, the way this administration handled this,” Ayoub said of the frustrations.

James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute, told NOTUS that relations between Arab American leaders and Biden are virtually nonexistent, a stark contrast, he said, to former President Bill Clinton’s years where his administration “[called] us in literally every couple of weeks.” Ayoub added that Biden is “relying on lists, you know, from 15, 20 years ago, people that are not really representative [or] on the scene anymore.”

A senior White House official acknowledged that “people are frustrated and emotional.”

“I think part of the frustration is some of the disagreement about the policy. There’s no question about that. And that, you know, comes out during our engagements there,” the official said. “That’s an important component of the engagement … for people to hear that frustration in the community.”

The official, however, emphasized that Biden is “trying very hard to get a pause in the fighting and extended pause as part of this hostage deal in order to build a longer term cessation of hostilities,” and those efforts to address the conflict could “alleviate a lot of pain.”

Another senior official added that the Biden administration has long-championed the Arab American community across the years and gave a long list of instances, dating back to 2021, where administration officials courted Arab American leaders at multiple virtual briefings, summits that addressed hate-fueled violence and Arab American Heritage Month celebrations, among other events.

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A campaign official pointed to several actions Biden had taken in recent weeks including calling Israel’s actions “over the top,” issuing an executive order sanctioning illegal Israeli settlers involved in violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, working to end a blockade on humanitarian aid in Gaza and active involvement in negotiations to pause the conflict allowing for an exchange of hostages and prisoners.

Ayoub said the onus was on the Biden administration to move the needle with voters, not on “forcing our community to accept genocide.” Mustapha Hammoud, a councilman in Dearborn, told NOTUS that should Biden call for a cease-fire, it’d be below the bare minimum to win over support from the Arab American community moving him “up to the level of George W. Bush.”

And the threat of a Trump presidency hasn’t shaken the Arab American community.

“I reject that America only has evil to offer,” Turaani told NOTUS.

A poll from the Arab American Institute shows that Biden’s support in the voting bloc plummeted from 59% to 17% in October. In Michigan, Biden trails behind Trump by 8 percentage points, showing just how crucial it is for Biden to win their support.

Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute, told NOTUS that she and other leaders are encouraging voters to still show up for the primaries and elections in November given that there are senatorial, congressional and local races also at stake.

“One of my most immediate concerns was the possibility that our community would stay home,” she said. But would that mean people would overlook their concerns with Biden?

“I don’t think so,” she said.

Tinashe Chingarande is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.