Will Gaza Cost Biden Re-election?

As infuriated as she is by Joe Biden’s stalwart support for Israel, Layla Elabed has not ruled out voting for him in November. A progressive Palestinian American community organizer in Dearborn, Mich., a majority Arab American city near Detroit, she doesn’t want to see Donald Trump back in office.

“Donald Trump has never been a friend to our community,” she told me as we sat in an airy, modern Yemeni coffee shop. But to win her back, she said, “the very bare minimum” Biden needs to do is to completely overhaul America’s relationship with Israel, demanding a permanent cease-fire and ending American military aid to Israel, at least as long as its war in Gaza drags on.

Given how strong support for Israel is in both the Democratic and Republican Parties, I’m fairly confident that an aid cutoff is not going to happen anytime soon. But speaking to Elabed, the younger sister of Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, I sensed a chasm between my resigned assumptions about how American politics works and her convictions about what’s necessary to stave off even more mass death in Gaza.

“We’re looking at unprecedented times where we are watching a genocide unfold in front of our eyes,” said Elabed. Biden’s backing of Israel may be predictable, given both his own avowed Zionism and the political influence of Israel’s American champions, but to her and others like her, it’s become intolerable. That’s why Elabed is managing the Listen to Michigan campaign, which is organizing to get people to protest Biden’s handling of the war by voting “uncommitted” in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

Biden will most likely never satisfy those most horrified by his Middle East policies, but if he doesn’t do more to try, he’s in danger of losing Michigan in November, which would almost certainly cost him the election. The state has the country’s largest percentage of Arab American voters, and within that community — as well as among many non-Arab Muslims, young people and progressives — there’s a deep sense of fury and betrayal at Biden for standing behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel pulverizes Gaza.

These voters have heard Biden criticize Israel’s “indiscriminate” and “over the top” bombardment of Palestinian civilians and infrastructure, but they don’t see his administration taking meaningful steps to restrain it. Given the intensity of pro-Israel sentiment in some corners of the Democratic Party, breaking with Israel has long been seen as politically risky. The “uncommitted” margin in Michigan next week will be an imperfect but useful gauge of the degree to which cleaving to Israel has become risky as well.

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