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DEARBORN, Mich. — Local activists gathered Tuesday morning to launch a campaign calling for Democrats to vote “uncommitted” in the state’s Feb. 27 primary as a way of pressuring President Joe Biden to support a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.
Some organizers of the campaign, dubbed “Listen to Michigan,” said that although they voted for Biden in 2020, they cannot support his re-election campaign due to his support for Israel — and they do not view uncommitted votes as de-facto support for former President Donald Trump.
“If that’s the case, come November, it’s between Biden and Trump — I mean, it’s essentially the Biden administration that is handing the White House over, because we’ve been abandoned by Biden,” said “Listen to Michigan” campaign manager Layla Elabed, a Palestinian American activist and the sister of Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.
Elabed added that backing a ceasefire is a prerequisite for many progressive voters to even begin considering another vote for Biden this year.
“The bare minimum to even start talking to — to really resonate with pro-ceasefire, anti-war voters, the bare minimum just to have those discussions is to have a policy around a permanent ceasefire and a re-evaluation of military funding to Israel,” Elabed told NBC News ahead of the event. “So it’s not that … if those two things happen automatically, that Biden will have our support because we’ve been burned.”
Elabed and others at the event repeatedly called Israel’s actions in Gaza a “genocide.” The International Court of Justice is hearing a case on the accusation, which the Israeli and U.S. governments have dismissed.
“This is beyond an election,” Elabed continued. “This is humanitarian politics that I feel largely the Democratic Party has abandoned.”
Speaking outside the Henry Ford Centennial Library, organizer Lexis Zeidan said she believes the Biden administration has funded the killing of thousands of Palestinians and the president must be held accountable.
“I want to remind everybody that in 2020, the Arab and Muslim community, myself included, sat at the same table with Joe Biden and we campaigned hard to get him elected,” Zeidan said. “In 2023, that same man that we thought represented humanity, the same man that we thought valued human life, both aided and abetted in a genocidal onslaught of the Palestinian people.”
So far, the Biden campaign has declined to comment on the “Listen to Michigan” campaign.
Adam Abusalah, a former Biden campaign field organizer focused on Arab American outreach in Michigan, said he no longer feels comfortable asking his own relatives to vote for Biden in 2024, as he did in 2020.
“We thought that he would lead with humanity and compassion. We thought that he would be a better president for us than Donald Trump. But instead he has led with hypocrisy and hatred and now funding genocide,” said Abusalah.
More than half of Dearborn’s residents are of Middle Eastern or North African descent, according to a Detroit Free Press analysis of 2020 census data. But Elabed said their coalition of voters includes more than just the Arab American community.
Indeed, the latest NBC News national poll shows just 29% of voters of all backgrounds approve of Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war. Among voters under age 35, that approval rating drops to 15%.
“We’re uncommitted to what’s going on,” said Abusalah. “We’re no longer just going to support him just because he has a ‘D’ next to his name.”