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Deciding the Vote: Arab American Voters Keep Candidates Guessing

posted on: May 15, 2024

Photo: Wikki Commons

By: Ghassan Rubeiz / Arab America Contributing Writer

“I’ve had it with Biden,” my activist friend’s email started. “He should face consequences for his unconditional support of Israel, and I plan to work to get Trump elected.”

As Arab Americans approach the November elections, we face mounting pressure to choose between two unattractive candidates: Joe Biden and Donald Trump. We are in good company; a large segment of American society is disappointed with its choices in November, especially progressives, African Americans, the Latinx community, and younger voters.

What makes Arab Americans, in particular, furious at this administration is exemplified by a recent State Department memorandum, which lists instances in which Israel has likely used American weapons to harm Palestinian civilians, but stops just short of saying Israel has violated American military assistance guidelines. I understand the anger of Arab Americans toward Biden, but when friends ask about my vote my answer is “undecided”. Keeping the candidates guessing makes the vote more valuable. Arab Americans are waiting to see Mideast policy improve before November.

That said, while I disagree with the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank pro-Palestinian voters who oppose Biden tend to be either “leftists” or misguided, I do not dispute his argument that by committing never to vote for Biden, they are “in effect working to elect Trump”. And Trump, of course, would be a disaster for Palestine. He rejects Palestinian statehood and wants to see any form of Palestinian resistance crushed. His peace plan for the Middle East takes the form of a business deal. Aside from that, he denies climate change and the effectiveness of vaccines; despises women and immigrants; is a confirmed racist; and attempted to overthrow the 2020 election.

And it is my duty as an American to think of the impact of my vote on other communities. Arab Americans must keep in mind that they will always need the support of the many Jewish groups who are working for peace and justice and for the solidarity of other minority communities.

Voting rationally and strategically is a challenge for all Americans, and I do not wish to criticize single-issue voters. For the many Americans whose families Israel displaced from historical Palestine, it is agonizing to weigh American policy in this war against issues as personal as abortion access or as universal as climate change. To complicate the decision further, there is a limit to what any one candidate can do. Biden is inching towards ending the war in Gaza, but to challenge Israel, he would need much more support in Congress than he currently has. He is a feeble candidate, and the pro-Israel lobby has his hands nearly tied.

The coming weeks may bring new developments, though. If the massive demonstrations in Israel against the war in Gaza continue to gain momentum, the Netanyahu cabinet may fall any day. Biden may then have the chance to facilitate a ceasefire, which might lead to a political breakthrough. If, on the other hand, Israel’s military rushes into Rafah, the resulting battle may be the final act of Netanyahu’s political career. A ground incursion into Rafah would pit Israel’s war cabinet against the White House; the American public; the world community; and the families of the hostages. And even a complete Israeli victory would not solve the subsequent political vacuum.

Arab Americans should not despair. They have already rallied the majority of Americans in support of Palestine. The Arab world is more supportive of Palestinians than it has been for years. The United Nations General Assembly now supports Palestine’s bid for full UN membership. The International Criminal Court is considering arrest warrants for Netanyahu and his team. As young Americans mobilize, and minority groups connect across ethnic and religious lines, there is hope both for Palestine’s future and for American democracy.

Come November, Arab American voters will make a choice. I hope by then the decision will be easier to make. Vote your conscience. 

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