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Anger over Gaza leads to push for "uncommitted" vote in MI Democratic primary

A neon yellow sign reads "YOU WILL NOT ERASE OUR EXISTANCE."
Rachel Ishikawa
Michigan Radio
Protestors gathered on a rainy day in Dearborn to march in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle

Arab and Muslim community leaders have launched a campaign intended to get President Joe Biden’s attention.

The coalition dubbed “Listen to Michigan” says it will urge people not to vote for Biden in Michigan’s Democratic primary later this month. Instead, the group will encourage voters to select “uncommitted” instead.

Lexis Zeidan, a Dearborn community activist and Palestinian-American, said members of that community are angry and alienated by what they see as Biden’s staunch support for Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. “You cannot fund the killing of 30,000 people and not be held accountable. … Joe Biden, you cannot fund the killing of 30,000 people and expect that we will forget,” Zeidan said at the group’s official launch in Dearborn on Tuesday (the Palestinian Ministry of Health says the civilian death toll in Gaza is approaching 30,000 people).

Campaign leader Layla Elabed said that voting uncommitted is a strategy for demanding change, and exercising the community’s political power.

“Many of us voted for Biden in 2020, including myself,” said Elabed, the sister of Michigan Democratic Representative Rashida Tlaib. “We got out the vote for him and helped him win the state of Michigan. But now we are saying, count us out, Joe.”

On Listen to Michigan’s website, the group says the community is “acutely aware of the devastation in Gaza,” and that pleas to Biden Administration officials to take a harder line on Israel seem have to “fallen on deaf ears.” It goes on to say that the campaign aims “to convey a firm message of our persistent demand for ceasefire and an end to financing Israel’s war crimes and genocide in Gaza.”

“If we can demonstrate our political power and discontent through thousands of 'Uncommitted' votes in the Michigan Democratic primaries, then Biden would feel more at risk of losing Michigan in the general election, prompting a potential reassessment of his financing and backing of Israel’s war in Gaza,” the group’s website reads.

The Biden campaign has recently made overtures to Michigan’s Arab-American community, which numbers around 300,000 people. Biden won Michigan by just over 150,000 votes in 2020. But those overtures haven’t been met warmly, and some Arab and Muslim community leaders rejected the opportunity to meet with Biden's campaign manager last month.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.