- Rep. Tlaib’s sister is leading a campaign to get voters to choose “uncommitted” over Biden in MI.
- It’s an effort to get Biden to back a cease-fire in Israel’s war in Gaza.
- And it’s yet another sign that age and memory aren’t the only political issues Biden faces.
As President Joe Biden faces fresh questions related to his age and memory, another point of pressure is brewing in the battleground state of Michigan.
A group of activists dubbed “Listen to Michigan” are urging Democrats in the state to withhold their support for Biden and mark “uncommitted” on their ballots in the upcoming February 27 primary to demonstrate their support for a cease-fire in Gaza — and their unwillingness to vote for him until he changes course on Israel.
“As Michigan Democrats, we cannot support [Biden’s] financial backing of actions in Gaza that conflict with our own core values of peace and humanity,” said Layla Elabed, a Dearborn-based activist and the group’s campaign manager. “Voting uncommitted is our way of demanding change, and this is going to be our vehicle to return political power back to us.”
Most of the activists are based in Dearborn, a city outside Detroit with more than 100,000 residents, most of whom are of Arab descent. Many residents have family members in the Palestinian territories and other Arab countries, or recently immigrated from the region.
“This is very emotional for me to talk about,” said Abbas Alawieh, a spokesperson for the campaign who lives in Dearborn. During a call with reporters on Friday, Alawieh referenced his experience visiting family in Lebanon, where he was born, during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war.
“I am someone who, as a child, survived US-funded Israeli bombs,” said Alawieh. “I know what those feel like when they drop. I know what they smell like. I know the nightmares that they cause for decades to come after experiencing them.”
The campaign has some proximity to Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who represents Dearborn, is the only Palestinian American in Congress, and was recently censured by the House in part for her use of the phrase “from the river to the sea” — a phrase that many Palestinians view as a call for freedom, but that some Jews and Israelis view as a call for the destruction of Israel.
Elabed is Tlaib’s younger sister, while Alawieh was once a top staffer to the Michigan congresswoman. But Tlaib herself appears to be maintaining her distance.
The congresswoman is not directly involved in the “Listen to Michigan” effort, and a Tlaib spokesperson did not respond to questions about how the congresswoman herself would be voting in the primary.
“I think organizers who are involved in this campaign understand Congresswoman Tlaib’s leadership as in line with this effort,” said Alawieh, noting her advocacy for a cease-fire in Congress.
But the campaign has the vocal backing of a variety of local elected officials, including the mayors of Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, and Hamtramck, as well as state legislators and city councilors.
Today, I’m joining 30+ of my elected colleagues from across SE Michigan in pledging to cast an “Uncommitted” vote in the upcoming presidential primary election. pic.twitter.com/ltmhihOF2A
— Abdullah H. Hammoud (@AHammoudMI) February 7, 2024
While Biden is still expected to cruise to victory in the Democratic primary, the campaign will provide some indication of his standing with Arab and Muslim voters, who comprise a much larger portion of the electorate than in other states.
Michigan will be a crucial battleground state during the general election, and the campaign is explicitly seeking to leverage a bloc of pro-ceasefire voters to affect change in US policy.
“Trump only won Michigan in 2016 by about 10,000 votes. Uncommitted Michigan Democrats opposed to Biden’s policy in Gaza can demonstrate that we hold his margin of victory for re-election,” reads the group’s website. “Biden must earn our vote through a dramatic change in policy.”
Foreign policy officials in the Biden White House traveled to Michigan on Thursday to meet with Arab-American leaders, but Alawieh, who met with those officials, said he came away disappointed.
“Senior Biden officials were talking about the mistakes as more of a messaging problem,” said Alawieh. “But we’re not looking for language shifts. We’re not looking for sympathy from this administration. We’re looking for action from President Biden that saves lives.”
“There wasn’t any indication in the meeting that they were committed to action that stops the genocide sooner rather than later,” said Alawieh.
Since the October 7 Hamas attacks, the resulting Israeli offensive has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians in Gaza.
In a Thursday night press conference to respond to Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report and address questions about his age, Biden also said that he believe Israel’s war had become “over the top” and that he had been pushing for a “sustained pause in the fighting.”
The United States provides $3.8 billion in military assistance to Israel every year, and the Senate is currently considering a foreign aid bill that would provide an additional $14 billion in aid to Israel, along with funds to support humanitarian relief in Gaza.
The House has voted on two bills to provide aid solely to Israel in recent months, but Democrats have blocked them from reaching Biden’s desk, citing both concerns with the war in Gaza and a desire to pair Israel and Ukraine aid together.