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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Rally in Michigan urges protest vote against Biden’s Israel policies

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) calls for a permanent ceasefire of the Israel-Hamas war, at a news conference held outside of the Capitol in Washington on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

By Anjali Huynh

Two days before today’s Michigan Democratic primary, speakers at a rally Sunday in Dearborn, Michigan, urged voters to withhold their support from President Joe Biden over his policy on the war in the Gaza Strip — and said that only Biden and Democrats who support his Israel policies would be to blame if the protest vote helped former President Donald Trump win in November.

“You all know Trump is an existential threat to our democracy,” said one of the speakers, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., “and President Biden is risking another Trump term over his support for the most right-wing government, most extremist government in the history of Israel.”

Tlaib is the only member of Michigan’s congressional delegation backing an effort encouraging Democrats to protest Biden’s stance on the war in Gaza by voting “uncommitted” in the state’s primary Tuesday. That movement, led by a group called Listen to Michigan, has energized a primary that Biden is expected to win handily, but it has raised concerns that the president could be losing support he needs to win the swing state in the general election in November.

It is unclear how much support the push to vote “uncommitted” has garnered, even as Listen to Michigan has held rallies and visited mosques across the state since it began its efforts this month.

But the event Sunday, which was organized by a group known as the Michigan Task Force for Palestine and drew more than 200 people to an indoor event space in Dearborn, was intended, in part, to show that support for the effort extends beyond Michigan’s large Arab American community. Other speakers at the rally included the Black pastor of a Baptist church in Detroit; a lawyer affiliated with Jewish Voice for Peace, a group of progressive activists; and leaders of a local chapter of the United Automobile Workers, which has endorsed Biden but also backed a cease-fire.

“This is not an Arab issue for President Biden,” said Mayor Abdullah Hammoud of Dearborn, a Democrat who spoke at the rally and is backing the “uncommitted” effort. “It’s not a Muslim issue. He’s got a humanitarian issue on his hands.”

Biden’s allies — including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, who is a co-chair of his reelection campaign — have argued that any vote not cast in support of the president aids Trump, the dominant front-runner for the Republican nomination. They have highlighted Trump’s past anti-Muslim remarks, in particular his calls to reimpose a travel ban.

Speaking on CNN on Sunday, Whitmer said that she “understood “the pain” that many Arab Americans were feeling, but added that “any vote that’s not cast for Joe Biden supports a second Trump term.” She pointed to Trump’s banning people from some countries with predominantly Muslim populations from entering the United States when he was president.

Several of the speakers Sunday dismissed such arguments, saying that while they did not want to see Trump reelected, they were determined to push Biden to address their concerns about the Mideast conflict.

“No, I don’t want Trump to win, but I don’t see any other way unless Biden acts,” said Councilwoman Gabriela Santiago-Romero, a Democrat who added that she was “tired of being asked to vote out of fear.”

“We must put fear into the hearts of Democrats,” she said.

Ammar Moussa, a spokesperson for the Biden campaign, said in a statement that Biden “knows the importance of earning the trust of every community” and that the president was “working closely and proudly with leaders in the Muslim, Arab American and Palestinian communities.” He added that Biden had “urged Israel to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties” and to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.

In addition to Listen to Michigan, Biden is facing opposition from a campaign called Abandon Biden, whose supporters across several states, including Michigan, have pledged not to vote for the president in November no matter what, citing the high death toll in Gaza.

On Sunday, Tlaib criticized her congressional colleagues who have voted to send military aid to Israel. “I have a message for many of them now: Michigan is courageously saying no more,” she said.

And when she called on those in the room to “show up” Tuesday, someone shouted back: “We’re there!”

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