Muslim community leaders gathered on Saturday in Dearborn, Michigan, home to the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the US, to protest against Joe Biden’s refusal to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, reiterating that the president’s stance could affect his support in crucial swing states next year.
Jaylani Hussein, director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that Biden’s unwillingness to call for a ceasefire had damaged his relationship with the American-Muslim community beyond repair. (Cair-Minnesota is not involved in his work on the Abandon Biden effort, which the organization said Hussein is doing in his personal capacity.)
“We are not powerless as American Muslims. We are powerful. We don’t only have the money, but we have the actual votes. And we will use that vote to save this nation from itself,” Hussein said. “Families and children are being wiped out with our tax dollars,” he added. “What we are witnessing today is the tragedy upon tragedy.”
After Israel resumed its bombing offensive on the territory after a five-day pause, the health ministry said 15,200 Palestinians, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, have been killed thus far. Israel’s air and ground strikes began after Hamas militants killed 1,200 Israelis and took around 240 hostage in a cross-border attack on 7 October.
From behind a lectern that read “Abandon Biden, ceasefire now”, leaders from Michigan, Minnesota, Arizona, Wisconsin, Florida, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania issued similar warnings that the president could not afford to lose the support of the Arab-American community in states critical to his chances for re-election.
A recent poll showed Biden’s support among Arab Americans has plunged from a comfortable majority in 2020 to 17%.
Dearborn is home to the highest concentration of Arab Americans in a state that has the highest number, 211,405 , and the highest percentage of Arab Americans, at 2.1%. Biden won Michigan in 2020 by 2.8% of the vote. Arab Americans account for 5% of the vote, according to the Arab American Institute.
In Wisconsin, where there are 25,000 Muslim voters, Biden won by about 20,000 votes, Tarek Amin, a doctor representing the state’s Muslim community, said.
In Arizona, where Biden won by about 10,500 votes, there are more than 25,000 Muslim voters according to the US Immigration Policy Center at the University of California San Diego, said Phoenix pharmacist Hazim Nasaredden.
About 3.45 million Americans identify as Muslim, or 1.1% of the country’s population, and the demographic tends to lean Democratic, according to Pew Research Center. Like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are also home to significant Arab-American populations and critical to Biden’s re-election mathematics.
The #AbandonBiden campaign began in Minnesota in October and has since spread to at least five other states represented at the conference.
“The anger in our community is beyond belief,” Hussein, who is Muslim, told the Associated Press. “One of the things that made us even more angry is the fact that most of us actually voted for President Biden. I even had one incident where a religious leader asked me: ‘How do I get my 2020 ballot so I can destroy it?’”
While the Biden administration has resisted pressure to call for a permanent halt in fighting, and continues significant weapons transfers to Israel, senior officials are going further in expressing their discomfort with the high level of civilian casualties.
The US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, warned on Saturday that Israel risks “strategic defeat” unless it protects Palestinian civilians in Gaza. “In this kind of a fight, the center of gravity is the civilian population. And if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat,” Austin said in a speech to the Reagan National Defense Forum in California.
That received pushback from the Republican senator Lindsey Graham said Sunday. “He’s so naive,” the South Carolina Republican said on CNN’s State of the Union.
“Strategic defeat would be inflaming the Palestinians? They’re already inflamed,” Graham added. “They’re taught from the time they’re born to hate the Jews and to kill them. They’re taught math: if you have 10 Jews and kill six, how many would you have left?”
The Wall Street Journal reported that the US has provided Israel with 100 BLU-109, 2,000-pound bunker busters included in a transfer package of about 15,000 bombs and 57,000 artillery shells since 7 October.
On Saturday, Vice-President Kamala Harris said that while the US supports Israel’s “legitimate military objectives” in Gaza, the suffering of the civilian population inside the enclave has been too high.
“Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering, and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating,” Harris said at a press conference in Dubai. “It is truly heartbreaking.”
At a meeting with the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, Harris also said that Washington will not allow for the forced relocation of Palestinians or any redrawing of the current border of the Gaza Strip.
“Under no circumstances will the United States permit the forced relocation of Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank, the besiegement of Gaza, or the redrawing of the borders of Gaza,” Harris said, according to a read-out of the meeting.
In a following statement, on Sunday, Harris said five principles guide the administration’s approach for post-conflict Gaza – “no forcible displacement, no reoccupation, no siege or blockade, no reduction in territory, and no use of Gaza as a platform for terrorism”.
“We want to see a unified Gaza and West Bank under the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinian voices and aspirations must be at the center of this work,” she said.
Against a backdrop of pro-Palestinian protest in the US, Muslim leaders gathered in Dearborn said Biden or the likely Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, were not their only choices next year, and they could choose to sit out the election.
“We don’t have two options. We have many options. And we’re going to exercise that,” Cair’s Hussein said.
Source: The Guardian