How a Biden Presidency would affect Arab Americans
By: Noah Robertson/Arab America Contributing Writer
As the November 2020 presidential election draws closer, there are two likely candidates who will face off and whose policies will impact Arab Americans for the next four years. While neither candidate has officially been through their respective party conventions and becoming the official nominee, it is all but certain that Donald Trump and Joe Biden will compete for the presidency. Given the possibility of Biden becoming the next president of the United States, it is important to consider his policies, beliefs, and the impact his presidency could have on Arab Americans.
Important note: the author focuses on Arab Americans, but Biden’s stance/policies include Muslims too.
The Current Administration
The actions of the Trump administration, Trump himself, and his supporters could produce many pages on their combined negative impacts on Arab Americans. His anti-Arab/Muslim actions have ranged from his so-called “Muslim Ban,” his frequent racist and derogatory remarks, the approval of the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the approval of the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, and his defunding the Palestinian refugee programs. In just the first year after his election, there was a 45% spike in hate crimes, with 82% motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment – though anti-Muslim generally is anti-Arab too since most people lump them together.
The negative impact of Trump’s administration, through physical actions and rhetoric, is important to note as the possibility of a Biden presidency is presented in comparison.
Currently, Joe Biden uses the term Muslim Americans to describe his policies that in reality will affect the Arab American community as well. Currently, there is an effort to change Biden’s word choice to address both American Muslims and the Arab American community because given that 65-70% of Arab Americans practice Christianity. The campaign has an advisor for Muslim Americans (Farooq) and an Ethnic Affairs director, Elvir Klempic, who oversees Farooq and Arab Americans. There is no person currently designated for Arab Americans, but there are efforts underway to change that.
There is a video of Joe Biden from 1992 where he says, “were God to come down tomorrow and physically relocate the nation-state of Israel…there would not be peace in the Middle East.” This is important to note, but not to dwell on because just like many people, he has changed his beliefs and now advocates for additional resources to address hate, eliminate prejudice, and generally support and recognize Arab Americans and American Muslim communities.
Biden’s words are a welcome sound in comparison to Trump’s. The problem with words is like many other politicians, they are relatively empty and carry no real substance on most of the issues he addresses, but the right words are an important start. Whatever encouraging words Biden uttered, the Palestinian community is still awaiting for a Biden’s statement on Palestine.
The Official Stance of the Biden Campaign
Though Biden’s commentary to reporters and in his official plan outlined on his campaign website, he demonstrates a desire to help, protect, and support the Arab American community. One crucial promise he makes is to ensure the “government’s engagement with Muslims is not viewed through a security lens.” This is vitally important because all too often Arab Americans are stereotyped as potential terrorists due to their skin color, language, and religion (even though many are not Muslim). By removing this “security lens” the government can move towards a more honest evaluation of Arab Americans, their needs, and the issues they face.
As mentioned earlier, the official stance also promises additional resources to combat hate crimes, a crucial issue Trump never acted on. In addition, Biden promises to reverse Trump’s “Muslim Ban,” in which 4/7 countries are Arab majority, on day one of his presidency. He also will set the refugee cap at 125,000 and raise it over time. Along with these important promises, he also pledged to end U.S. support for the war in Yemen and cancel Saudi Arabia’s “blank check” for human rights abuses. These actions may not directly affect Arab Americans, but it affects their home countries and possibly families as well.
Biden is a strong supporter of Israel, a view he has expressed many times, which means he will not pull aid from Israel or denounce any of their actions though he still wants a two-state solution and will restore Palestinian aid. This is a contentious issue for many Arab Americans, but given Trump’s stance on Israel and Palestine, Biden is a clear upgrade.
Biden In the Past
When evaluating a person, it is important to look at their past no matter their current rhetoric. Fortunately, with public figures, it is relatively easy to check out their past through the internet and in Biden’s case, official voting records. There are a few of his legislative votes that stand out as well as one initiative the Obama-Biden administration pioneered.
Biden voted “yea” on the creation of The Patriot Act in 2001, which gave the government extensive internal surveillance powers often overriding privacy concerns. This is significant to Arab Americans because they are often the target of domestic surveillance and intelligence operations. On the other hand, Biden did vote “yea” on the topic of an amendment regarding the addition of resources and expansion of authority to prosecute hate crimes. Biden also supported sending the military into Iraq, but it can also be argued that he did help pull troops out eventually. His voting record generally balances out to some good and some bad.
One should remember that Biden supported and helped pioneer the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program. In 2011, this program was launched to essentially ask federal agencies to partner with people inside the American Muslim community to identify signs of extremism. These “signs” were arbitrary and had no direct correlation to extremism and Arab Americans were targeted as officials lumped with other groups. Since its inception, the program has been racially targeted and President Trump even expanded it. Given Biden’s role in creating a program targeting by race and religion, it is important that he commit to ending the program and ensuring racial profiling is terminated as he has promised.
Will A Biden Presidency Benefit Arab Americans?
Even without the extensive analysis of Biden’s current stance and past actions, it is clear that he would be far better for the Arab American community than Trump. While Biden may not be perfect in his wording or specific in his proposals, he certainly wants to help change the stereotypes and prejudices surrounding Arab Americans, and specifically the Palestinians. He has some spots on his record from the past, but no one is perfect and he would be a step in the right direction away from Trump’s anti-Arab, anti-Muslim presidency.
Update: Conference Call with Arab Americans
On Thursday, July 9th the campaign hosted a Zoom call for Arab Americans with Biden senior advisor, Tony Blinken.
Here are the main points Blinken touched on:
- Syria: The Biden campaign is learning from their mistakes in Syria when Vice President Biden served in the Obama administration. They are planning to recommit to Syria and worked to support a consistent flow of aid and diplomatic negotiations for an end to the conflict. Biden hopes to ensure America leads efforts in Syria and does not take a backseat in protecting human rights and the Syrian people. The Biden campaign has also pledged to increase the refugee cap to 125,000 and raise it over time as resources allow.
- Yemen: The Biden campaign promises to ensure Saudi Arabia no longer receives a blank check and U.S. support for Saudi-led attacks in Yemen is pulled. Biden also plans to sharply increase humanitarian aid to Yemen and work to ensure aid is allowed into the country and is not used as a diplomatic bargaining chip. He hopes to work towards a peaceful diplomatic solution.
- Israel-Palestine: Joe Biden is a strong advocate for a two-state solution and is fundamentally opposed to any person or action that works against that goal. Blinken did emphasize that the first step in working towards that solution is returning to the status quo before Trumps’s anti-Palestine actions. This means restoring aid to the Palestinian people and again recognizing the PLO as well as providing support for Israel-Palestine security efforts.
- When asked about how we could move forward after returning to the status quo, Blinken honestly said that the Biden campaign does not “have a magic solution or a light-switch” right now, but they promise to work hard towards a two-state solution. Initially, Biden plans to begin with a “period of do-no-harm”.
- When asked about the BDS movement and Biden’s thoughts about it, Blinken said Biden does not necessarily support it but respects everyone’s right to freedom of expression. He said that Biden also condemns Israel for censoring freedom of expression by restricting those who support BDS (like some congresspeople) from entering Israel.
- When asked about annexation, Blinken made sure to say that the Biden campaign does not support annexation and sees this as a kind of “unilateral action” that neither side should be carrying out. Blinken also stated that Biden stands against violence or incitement from anyone.
- Regarding Israel as a whole, Biden “opposes any effort to delegitimize or unfairly single out Israel” which is troublesome for Palestinian rights activists, but his promise to not stifle freedom of expression is promising.
- Domestic: The Biden campaign promises to ensure equal representation in the administration so that the members of the administration look like the makeup of the U.S. Blinken promised that not only will Arab Americans be part of the administration to advocate for issues affecting them, but that Arab Americans will have a seat at the table no matter what, not just about issues affecting them or the Arab World.
Blinken’s responses that were politically careful and generalized to some extent, but he presented an encouraging image of a Biden campaign, and the potential new administration, that will ensure human rights, free speech, equality, and humanitarian support are all emphasized and respected.
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