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President Biden: Listen to Michigan--Your Support of Israel Could Cost You The Presidency

posted on: Feb 28, 2024

Listen to Michigan. Photo: Listen to Michigan

By: Bishara A. Bahbah / Arab America Featured Columnist


In last night’s Michigan Democratic primary held on February 27, over 101,100 Michiganders, with 95% of the vote in, voted as Uncommitted, sending a stark and daunting warning to President Biden: Either you change course on the War in Gaza, stop funding Israel’s genocidal attacks on civilians and call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, or lose the presidency.

The Michigan Democratic primary election is viewed as a harbinger of President Joe Biden’s fate in the national elections in November 2024. Assessing Biden’s support in Michigan, a critical swing state, reveals whether Biden can win the presidency against his old nemesis, former President Donald J. Trump.

The “uncommitted” tally is considered a no-confidence vote over his Gaza policy. Organizers of the “Listen to Michigan” campaign aimed to have 10,000 people vote “undecided.” Instead, they secured over 100,000 “undecided” votes – a significant blow for Biden’s election prospects in November 2024.

Despite all his legal troubles, Trump has an unwavering, solid support base among Republican voters. Biden, on the other hand, has single-handedly managed to shatter his Democratic base because of his “unadulterated” support of Israel in its genocidal war against Palestinians in Gaza.

No one doubted that Biden would win the Michigan Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday, February 27. He ran virtually unopposed. The looming question has been how many voters would check the “uncommitted,” an option Michigan includes as a box on its ballots.

The Washington Post reported recently that two grassroots Michigan movements have emerged to warn against Biden’s military and political support of Israel’s war on Gaza. Prominent elected state and local government officials, at last count, over 40 officials, have backed the “Listen to Michigan” movement. It has pushed to get 10,000 Democrats to vote “uncommitted” during the Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday. That number was derived from the votes that gave Trump his Michigan victory in 2016 over Hillary Clinton.

Layla Elabed, the campaign organizer for “Listen to Michigan,” is also the sister of Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). Speaking with Layla, she told me that “the campaign has grown so big and beyond my initial expectations.” She added that the goal is to have at least 10,000 people check the “uncommitted” box on the Michigan ballot. She said she did not have actual numbers to report but was optimistic about reaching the goal of 20,000 or even 30,000 votes or more. In a live link from Michigan, she stated that her team of organizers had reached one million voters in three weeks, urging them to vote “undecided” on Tuesday’s Democratic ballot.

Speaking with another key and long-time Democratic party organizer in Michigan, Terry Ahwal, told me many people have contacted her on election day to inform her that they voted “uncommitted.” She added that Biden’s campaign has been “begging” to meet with her. She has refused. “Even if Biden were to offer me a private audience in the Oval Office, I would refuse to meet with him,” she continued. Biden, she said, “is killing our people. He is intentionally complicit with Israel’s genocide in Gaza.” 

The other movement, also supported by Arab Americans and Muslims, called “Abandon Biden,” has been working to deny the president a second term outright because of his unhinged support of Israel, his refusal to call for a ceasefire, and his vetoing of three UN Security Council resolutions, one of them as recently as this past week, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. 

The first movement focuses principally on the primary elections, while the second movement, more importantly, seeks to deny Biden the presidency in November – a loss that could potentially cost Biden his presidency. The apparent disgust among young voters, voters of color (Black, Latino, and Asian), Native Americans, progressives, and Arab and Muslim Americans are intent on punishing Biden for his support of Israel during its onslaught on Gaza. 

In 2020, Biden won Michigan by more than 150,000 votes over his rival, Trump. Those voters who propelled Biden to victory are now against him even though they perhaps dislike Trump more. 

The Message Michigan Voters Are Sending to Biden: Stop U.S. Complicity with Israel’s Genocidal Attacks on Gaza’s Civilians

What voters in Michigan, a state with over 310,000 Arab and Muslim Americans and their supporters, want to convey to Biden and his team are the following:

1. Unlike previous election years, when concern for civil rights, abortion, and the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan were primary motivating issues, this year, Israel’s Gaza war will be a defining factor in the presidential elections, particularly for Democrats who currently occupy the White House. 

A recent Fox News poll has shown former president Donald Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate, running slightly ahead of Biden in Michigan at 47 percent to 45 percent, respectively. In another more recent poll, Trump leads Biden by four points.  In 2020, Biden carried Michigan by more than 150,000 votes. 

According to former congressman Andy Levin (D-MI), “For Joe Biden to win the electoral college [in November], he has to win Michigan.” He added, “I don’t think Joe Biden can win Michigan unless he changes course [on the Israel-Gaza war]. “

2. Israel’s war on Gaza has divided the Democratic Party.

The initial sympathy for Israel following Hamas’ attack on October 7 swiftly dissipated. Once Israel began carpet bombing Gaza and indiscriminately killing Palestinian civilians, sympathy quickly shifted to the Palestinians. While support for Israel has almost always been a mantle of both Republicans and Democrats, recent polls show that 42 percent of Democrats now sympathize equally with both Palestinians and Israelis. However, Palestinian support among young voters is more than double their support for Israel, 34 to 16 percent, respectively. Among people of color, that support is in favor of Palestinians by 21 to 17 percent, respectively.

3. Michigan Arab and Muslim Americans and their supporters want to send a message to all elected officials throughout the country: You cannot be complicit in a genocide funded by American weaponry and protected politically by the United States and get away with it.

The reelection of those officials is by no means guaranteed anywhere in the country for those who refuse to support a ceasefire in Gaza, whether on the state or the national level.

4. In a belated effort to shore his fortune among voters, Biden began to be critical of Israel, stating that their actions are “over the top.”

He has increasingly been voicing more concern for the civilian casualties in Gaza and insisting that Israel should not proceed in its onslaught on the last remaining pocket of population squeezed in the Rafah area close to the Egyptian border. Biden’s administration recently annulled the Pompeo Doctrine that effectively blessed Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands. The Biden administration considers those settlements illegal and hamper negotiations for a two-state solution. 

5. It is becoming evident that the era of Israel’s treatment as the United States’ most sacred protégé is coming to an end.

Americans of all walks of life are saddened by the sight of a so-called American ally and the most significant foreign aid beneficiary committing acts of genocide and being ordered by the International Court of Justice Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction, and any acts of genocide in its military offensive against Gaza. 

Biden’s Redeeming Actions

For Biden to have a slight chance of winning over young voters, voters of color, progressives, Native Americans, and Arab and Muslim American voters, he must move simultaneously on several fronts. 

First, Biden has to immediately call for a ceasefire and the cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. The latter has already conditioned the release of the remaining 100 or so hostages should Israel end its war on Gaza, withdraw its troops from Gaza, and allow the entry of life-saving supplies to the Strip, including food, water, medicine, and fuel.

Second, Biden should insist on a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip with no conditions attached except possibly the demilitarization of Gaza by Palestinian or Arab forces to prevent future attacks on Israel. Israel would have no role to play in Gaza. International forces would play a peace-keeping role in Gaza and not Israel.

Third, the United States and the other 17 countries that suspended their contributions to UNRWA should resume the funding and even increase it immediately. The United States should pave the way for the immediate rebuilding of Gaza, ranging from its infrastructure, its hospitals, its universities, and even the places of worship that Israel has demolished. The funds for the reconstruction should not fall solely on Arab countries; Israel, the United States, and Western countries should contribute significant amounts of funds to enable the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Fourth, the United States should push for Israel’s acceptance of the Arab countries’ offer to establish diplomatic ties with Israel in return for the latter’s relinquishing any designs over colonizing Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. Talks should be held to pave for the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state in the lands Israel occupied in 1967 within a clearly defined, implementable, and guaranteed timeframe. 

These steps will not only reverse Biden’s choice of being on the wrong side of history through his complicity with Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza and its systematic destruction of the West Bank, but should Biden pursue these policies, Biden’s prospects for winning the presidency would increase. The standing of the United States worldwide has suffered terribly, and Biden’s actions could help restore the respect that the United States used to command. 

About the Author: Dr. Bishara Bahbah is a senior fellow and distinguished columnist at Arab He taught at Harvard University, where he served as the associate director of its Middle East Institute. He is currently president of the Palestinian American Congress and previously a negotiator in the Middle East peace talks.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America.

The reproduction of this article is permissible with proper credit to Arab America and the author.