(Washington) Last week, Joe Biden’s campaign manager planned to meet Arab-American leaders in Michigan. But angered by the administration’s stance on Gaza, many declined the invitation, an ominous snub for Democrats in the key state.
“This is not the time to play electoral politics,” one of them, Abdullah Hammoud, scathed on CNN.
Mr. Hammoud is the mayor of Dearborn, a Detroit suburb known for being home to one of the largest communities of Arab origin in the country.
“People do not want to support a candidate who defends and finances genocide,” he said, recalling that more than 26,000 Palestinians had been killed in Gaza since the start of the conflict, sparked in October by a bloody attack by the Hamas against Israel.
His comments reflect the anger and disappointment of many Americans of Arab origin or Muslim faith over the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and the support for Israel from Joe Biden, who has asked Congress for billions of additional dollars in military aid.
His administration also vetoed a UN resolution calling for a cease-fire.
During the Gaza protests, signs depicting the Democratic president as “Genocidal Joe” are regularly held up. And speeches by Mr. Biden were loudly interrupted by demonstrators demanding a ceasefire.
Since the start of the conflict and in the face of the tensions it causes in the United States, President Biden has repeatedly assured his Muslim compatriots that he rejects Islamophobia.
But it was other of his comments that struck some of the voters.
For Zeina, a 33-year-old lawyer from Dearborn, one of the “turning points” was when at the end of October, Joe Biden said he “did not trust” the assessments provided by the Palestinians.
With other of her positions, “it snowballed,” explains to AFP the young woman who prefers not to give her last name.
So her vote on November 5 “clearly will not go to Biden,” she says. Yet while she says she has more in common with Republicans, she voted for Biden in 2020 because of his commitment to diversity. She also thought he would be a better “voice for the Middle East.”
This time, she will “probably” vote for her right-wing rival Donald Trump, even though he has promised to reinstate his controversial migration decree targeting Muslim countries, the famous “Muslim Ban”.
However, although they represent only a fraction of the American population, “Arabs and Muslims have a great impact in key states”, these crucial states, because they are likely to tip the scales in favor of one or the other candidate, told AFP Youssef Chouhoud, lecturer at Christopher Newport University.
On election day, in Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania or Virginia, their vote could therefore make the difference.
Joe Biden clearly won in this electorate in 2020, but an analysis by Mr. Chouhoud, compiling data from several polls, shows that many could abstain or vote for a third party in 2024.
“In Michigan, for example, this could mean that Biden would lose about 55,000 votes, or about a third of the 154,000-vote margin of victory he had over Trump in 2020,” Mr. Chouhoud wrote on the The Conversation website.
Recently asked about this risk, Mr. Biden replied that Donald Trump wanted to “ban Arabs (sic) from entering the country”.
“We will make sure we understand who cares about the Arab population,” he added.
In the meantime, a poll conducted by the Arab American Institute showed at the end of October that the Arab-American electorate was massively turning away from Joe Biden: support for the Democratic president fell from 59% in 2020 to 17%.
And a campaign called “Abandon Biden”, launched by Muslim leaders in several states, is campaigning for the outgoing president to lose in November.