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Thousands protest Joe Biden’s Gaza response by voting “uncommitted” in Michigan primary

Multi-ethnic group of people at polling station on election day, focus on smiling Arab woman with I VOTED sticker looking at camera,
Photo: Shutterstock

A campaign to express displeasure with President Joe Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas conflict succeeded during the Democratic primary election in Michigan on Tuesday night.

The Listen to Michigan campaign sought to get 10,000 voters to choose “uncommitted” over Biden, a margin roughly similar to the number of votes that former President Donald Trump won the state by in 2016. With nearly all polling places reporting, over 100,000 people voted for “uncommitted” — over 13% of the total votes — signaling that Biden stands to lose more votes in the swing state this November unless he changes his response to the Middle East conflict.

Activists in Michigan, which boasts the nation’s largest Arab American population, sought to show Biden that they hold the key to his re-election in the state — and they’re disappointed with his response to Israel’s military campaign against Palestinians.

Israel’s campaign, launched last October in response to Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians, has resulted in nearly 30,000 Palestinian deaths. Inside the International Court of Justice, Israel currently stands accused of committing genocide against Palestinian Arabs by obstructing food, preventing aid workers, and attacking civilian infrastructure, Human Rights Watch reported.

Layla Elabed, founder of the Listen to Michigan campaign, said an “uncommitted” vote is not an endorsement of former President Donald Trump nor a desire to see him return to power. Rather, “it’s a humanitarian vote. It’s a protest vote. It is a vote that tells Biden and his administration that we believe in saving lives,” she told CNN.

The campaign is calling on Biden to “stop funding the Israeli government’s atrocities against the Palestinian people,” its website states, adding, “Biden must earn our vote through a dramatic change in policy.”

While Biden supports a two-state solution and recently expressed hope for a ceasefire by next week, he previously refused to publicly call for an indefinite ceasefire and vetoed a UN resolution calling for such. Federally, Democratic legislators have been split on whether to continue providing financial and military support for Israel without any conditions.

Though the Listen to Michigan campaign began barely three weeks ago, it gained the support of Elabed’s sister Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Jewish Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI), over 40 elected state and local politicians, as well as other progressive groups. The campaign has largely been led by millennial and Gen Z activists in the Michigan city of Dearborn, a city outside of Detroit where over half of the residents are Arab.

Lavora Barnes, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, expressed appreciation for the campaign while expecting that state voters will ultimately support Biden.

“Do you want a president who has worked hard to support Michiganders and make their lives easier, or do you want a president who has, frankly, supported a Muslim ban?” Barnes told CNN. “That’s the difference, and people will choose Joe Biden in November.”

Indeed, Trump has remained stridently in support of Israel and its right-wing government under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As president, Trump drafted a “peace plan” for the region without any Palestinian input. He also defunded the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees and moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem while closing the U.S. mission to Palestine in the same city, Vox reported.

Additionally, Trump has said he will reinstate his Muslim travel ban and oversee mass deportations of immigrants in the U.S., having accused immigrants of “poisoning the blood of our country.” Overall, his stances threaten undocumented Arab families living in the U.S., increase hostility towards Arab Americans, and remove any pretense of the U.S. being a mediating force in Middle Eastern peace talks.

However, Biden’s critics say the current president is squandering U.S. influence over Israel by refusing to criticize the country’s targeting of Palestinian civilians and not calling for a “just and swift” resolution to its continued military campaign, Vox writer Zack Beauchamp noted.

Biden’s lack of action may not only cost him the support of Michiganders and Arab Americans. He won Michigan in 2020 by getting 154,188 votes over Trump — far more than the number of “uncommitted” votes in Tuesday night’s primary. But other key Democratic voting groups also oppose Israel’s response to the conflict — together, they represent a bloc that Biden cannot ignore.

“I think the great danger for Joe Biden here in the Michigan primary is that he would win with no indication that he has a problem, with no visibility of how angry people are,” Rep. Levin told CNN. “Yes, it’s centered in the Arab American community and in the broader Muslim community, but it’s also a big problem in the African American community and among young voters and people of color, generally.”

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