Joe Biden flew into Michigan last month like a politician desperately trying to rekindle an old romance that had long since grown cold.
For decades, Michigan has been a Democratic stronghold – due to union power and the party’s blue-collar base. But that support has eroded over the years as the state’s Arab and Muslim population has grown, and Biden’s visit did not even have the air of a suitor showing up with wilted flowers long after the date had passed. Instead of wilted red roses, the Palestine supporters were met with “teams of riot police wearing helmets and wielding sticks were brought in for reinforcement.”
President Biden visited the UAW Region 1 Hall in Warren, hoping perhaps to conjure up memories of the Obama era when he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with those autoworkers. But the reception was polite at best, the equivalent of a peck on the cheek at the end of the night. Because Michigan voters know that President Biden and the Democrats have taken them for granted once too often. It’s hard to run a presidential re-election when the coordinated campaign is forced to play Houdini due to an insurgence of protests.
The president and his officials can’t seem to get it right when it comes to Michigan. Just look at the meeting planned for today with Biden officials.
CNN first reported that an unnamed White House official said the group, which includes Samantha Power, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Office of Intergovernmental Affairs Director Tom Perez, would be on the ground in Michigan. Hoping to prime various constituencies for a Biden visit, they planned to meet with Michigan Muslim and Arab leaders.
Last week at Johns Hopkins University, Samantha Power’s own staff confronted her during a public speech about her double standards on Palestine. Disruptions at Biden campaign events have reached epidemic proportions, forcing the campaign to hire specialists to handle protests.
The Detroit Free Press learned from an unnamed community leader that a group would be meeting with Dearborn attorney Ali Dagher, Deputy Wayne County Executive Assad Turfe, Arab American News publisher Osama Siblani, and Wayne County Circuit Judge Mariam Bazzi.
In Southeast Michigan, a significant movement among Arab American and Muslim community leaders, including more than 30 elected officials from the region, has emerged in response to the Biden administration’s handling of the conflict in Gaza. This group has collectively pledged not to support President Biden in the state’s upcoming presidential primary. The initiative is spearheaded by Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, who criticized President Biden for the civilian casualties in Gaza following an outbreak of war prompted by an attack from Hamas on Israel on October 7, which resulted in over 1,200 Israeli casualties and the taking of 253 hostages.
Major Hammoud has highlighted the dire consequences of the conflict, noting over 100,000 Palestinians have been either killed, wounded, or reported missing, with more than 2 million people displaced. Calling for a better future, Hammoud has urged voters to pledge their votes as “Uncommitted” in the presidential primary scheduled for February 27, signaling a demand for a significant shift in U.S. policy towards the conflict.
Support for Hammoud’s stance comes from various quarters, including Hamtramck Mayor Amer Ghalib, House Majority Floor Leader Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck), and Democratic Representatives Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit), Erin Byrnes (D-Dearborn), and Alabas Farhat (D-Dearborn), among others. In total, 34 officials, including mayors, county commissioners, and school board members from Wayne, Oakland, and Washtenaw counties, have joined this pledge, demonstrating a substantial regional consensus against the current administration’s approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Despite the campaign and the White House’s best efforts, many who were invited to meet with Biden officials have refused the meeting, illustrating once again the characteristic disorganization and ineffectiveness of this administration. The mixed signals and confused lines of communication have become all too common, undermining the Democrats’ standing in a state they can ill afford to lose again after Trump’s shocking 2016 upset here paved the way for four turbulent years.
Nowhere have President Biden’s struggles been more apparent than among Arab and Muslim voters, a vital constituency in a state like Michigan where their concentration in and around Detroit holds significant sway. These voters helped fuel Trump’s thin 10,704-vote victory in Michigan seven years ago. But many hoped that electing Biden would lead to a course correction after the bellicosity and chaos of the Trump era.
Instead, many feel betrayed by Biden’s fulsome support for Israel in its conflict with Hamas in Gaza since last fall. His refusal to meaningfully criticize Israel’s military actions – which critics label a grossly disproportionate onslaught causing hundreds of civilian deaths – led allies like Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib to publicly rebuke him. This stance has caused a definitive chill toward Biden among Arab and Muslim voters in Michigan.
Amer Zahr shared a tweet from the Arab American Political Action Committee which called on people of conscience, specifically Arab Americans, to refuse meetings with the Biden administration and campaign.
No number of meetings between White House officials and local community leaders, hastily arranged to try to smooth things over, can paper over this rift. Voters still remember how Biden labeled himself a “Zionist” and “supporter of Israel” during his campaign. And they recoil at the appointment of Dana Stroulco-author of a paper essentially supporting perpetual Israeli control of Palestine – to a prominent State Department role overseeing Middle East policy.
Actions speak louder than words, and Biden’s actions leave Arab American and Muslim voters feeling disillusioned and disrespected. The days when their support for Democrats could be taken for granted are over. Outreach events in places like Dearborn and Detroit are band-aids over a much deeper wound. And they do nothing to address the underlying policy failures fueling this tension.
There is one Muslim civic organization, Emgage, that has stealthily sought to retain gatekeeper status in the Muslim community. This is the role it has played in the Democratic Party for several years. For example, in 2020, the organization coordinated a private meeting between Blinken and Muslim leaders regarding the disavowal of Muslim Delegate Linda Sarsour as DNC delegate. Privately, Biden campaign officials apologized. At the time, a number of activists, scholars, and academics criticized Muslim organizations like Emgage for having connections to pro-Israel groups while claiming to advocate for Muslim communities. Emgage was removed from the US Council of Muslim Organizations due to its Zionist affiliations.
Regardless, the disenchantment with the Biden administration did not take long to actualize. In 2021, one of the largest anti-war protests since the Iraq War occurred in DC with 35,000 people rallying for Palestine on Memorial Day weekend.
After the 2023 genocide, Emgage organized another private meeting with Biden that was seen as a PR stunt by some. The administration also released a strategy to counter Islamophobia while continuing military funding for Israel.
When thousands of Muslims were protesting in Washington, D.C. on November 4, CNN managed to run its top story that day about Emgage’s voter mobilization effortsignoring the community’s mass mobilization just days before the Virginia state elections, which Democrats handily won.
In October 2023, Dearborn’s affable mayor Abdullah Hammoud joined a State Department outreach program as the State Department was criticized for not condemning Israel’s actions against Palestinians as it continues to drag its feet on calling for an immediate ceasefire. He has been a beneficiary of Emgage voter outreach and mobilization efforts.
In February 2024, Mayor Hammoud finally decided to refuse a meeting with the Biden campaign after months of working with the U.S. State Department. Last weekend, after the Wall Street Journal ran an inflammatory and Islamophobic piece calling Dearborn Ameria’s Jihad CapitolMayor Hammoud became a face of the ceasefire movement with White Officials shuttling to Michigan for meetings even though far more senior elected officials are present in Washington D.C. than a mayor of Michigan’s seventh largest city. The administration and Western media selectively choose who will be the face of Muslims.
A new slew of activists, organizations, and political candidates has ramped up direct action efforts from Occupy Congress to Occupy Blinken. Public affairs, social impact strategist, social entrepreneur Hamazi Barmada’s courage and activism have inspired all those around, from staging die-ins to camping out at Blinken’s home.
Biden eked out a win in Michigan in 2020 on the strength of voters motivated to oust Donald Trump more than anything else. But his support in the state and across critical Midwestern battlegrounds has only eroded since then. His approval rating in Michigan now stands at a dismal 36% as voters struggle with inflation, economic instability and a sense the country remains dangerously adrift.
The president’s struggles in Michigan are a microcosm of his wider troubles nationwide. This was a romance rekindled through sheer necessity, not affection or enthusiasm. But the sparks have not endured, as both sides wonder whether they really belong together after all. A possibly brutal election cycle looms for Democrats come November. And if Biden cannot recalibrate quickly, his ambitions for 2024 may vanish like smoke as well.
The romance has gone cold in the Wolverine State. Without some miraculous reinvigoration of the relationship, voters may show Biden the door when his term expires. The president would be wise not to bank on winning back Michigan and critical Midwestern states again. These voters tend to scorn jilted suitors who think they can waltz back in and pick up where they left off despite taking them for granted. Just ask Hillary Clinton how well that worked out in 2016.