Feb 1, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden's Michigan trip collides with Gaza backlash

Biden and Whitmer

Biden with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at today's UAW event. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Hours before traveling to Michigan, a key epicenter of Arab American outrage over the war in Gaza, President Biden signed an unprecedented executive order targeting Israeli settlers who attack Palestinians.

Why it matters: The timing may have been coincidental, but the Biden administration is eager to present deliverables to Arab and Muslim American voters who have threatened to sit out or actively work to defeat the president over his support for Israel.

  • Those communities — not to mention the younger generations alienated by Biden's policies toward Gaza — typically vote Democratic by wide margins.
  • A major defection would imperil Biden's 2020 coalition: In Michigan, for example, Biden won by 154,000 votes. Census estimates put the state's Arab American population around at least 278,00o.

Driving the news: Biden did not meet with any Muslim or Arab community leaders in his visit to the Detroit area, where he delivered a campaign speech to UAW workers a week after receiving the union's endorsement.

  • Pro-Palestinian protests were held Wednesday night in Dearborn, Michigan — home to the country's largest Muslim population per capita — but Biden's event was not disrupted.

Zoom in: The raw anger many of these communities have expressed toward Biden's policies — including his refusal to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war — cannot be overstated.

  • Activists have organized an "Abandon Biden" campaign that plans to endorse a third-party candidate, even at the risk of boosting former President Trump — who is likely to be more hostile to the Palestinians.
  • Some Palestinian American community leaders declined an invitation to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken today, saying they "cannot imagine" what he could have to say after "nearly four unbearable months."
  • Last week, some Arab American elected officials refused to meet with Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez in Michigan — calling it "dehumanizing" to discuss electoral politics while the war is ongoing.

What they're saying: "When you send campaign staff as the first delegation to this community to meet with us for the first time, that sends a message that this is purely a political problem that you see," Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud told PBS Newshour.

The big picture: Biden has been losing patience with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for weeks now, pressing him to scale down operations in Gaza and stressing that the U.S. is not in it for another year of war.

  • As Axios first reported yesterday, the State Department has begun conducting a review of possible policy options for U.S. and international recognition of a Palestinian state after the war.
  • Today's executive order represents the most significant step any U.S. administration has ever taken in response to violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank.

What to watch: Biden does not face a serious challenger in Michigan's Democratic primary on Feb. 27, but the turnout and margin of victory could offer a key test of the hurdles ahead.

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