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Arab American leaders urge Michigan to vote "uncommitted" and send message to Biden about Israel policy

Biden walks tightrope in Middle East
Biden walks tightrope in Middle East 02:03

Michigan community leaders are encouraging voters to select "uncommitted" in the Michigan primary elections, hoping to send a message to President Biden before November that they're unhappy with U.S. support for Israel in the conflict with Gaza. 

"The main push is Joe Biden's stance on the conflict taking place between Israel and Gaza," said Hussein Dabajeh, one of the organizers of the "Vote Uncommitted" movement.

"That's not who we voted into office. That's not who we helped elect," said Dabajeh. "That's not who over 150,000 Arab and Muslim voters in the state of Michigan voted for."

In Michigan, Democratic and Republican presidential primary ballots alike offer voters the choice of selecting a candidate or "uncommitted." A vote of "uncommitted," according to the Michigan secretary of state, "indicates the voter is exercising a vote for that political party, but is not committed to any of the candidates listed on the ballot." And, if there are enough "uncommitted" votes, the party "may send delegates to the national nominating convention who are not committed to a specific candidate."

Michigan is a critical swing state, one that Mr. Biden won by a thin margin of about 154,000 votes in 2020, but that Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 to Donald Trump, who appears likely to be the GOP presidential nominee this year. It's home to a large community of Arab and Muslim Americans, 146,000 of whom voted for Mr. Biden in 2020, and many of whom disagree with Biden's stance on the Israel-Hamas war.

Organizers think that if the Vote Uncommitted movement in Michigan can convince tens of thousands of voters to vote uncommitted, it may help force Mr. Biden to reassess his backing of Israel in its war with Hamas. The Israeli military has cut off or restricted the flow of supplies and aid to civilians in Gaza as it continues to carry out military operations. The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza says that over 25,000 have been killed in the Israel-Hamas war. 

The Vote Uncommitted movement in Michigan is similar to efforts to coax New Hampshire primary voters to write in "ceasefire" on their ballots. In last month's primary, "ceasefire" received about 1.2% or 1,512 of Democratic primary votes. However, New Hampshire has a much smaller population than Michigan and a different demographic profile.

Earlier this month, Biden sent campaign manager Julie Chavez-Rodriguez to Michigan to meet with Arab American community leaders. They refused to meet with her. 

"The lives of Palestinians are not measured in poll numbers," Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, said on X. "When elected officials view the atrocities in Gaza only as an electoral problem, they reduce our indescribable pain into a political calculation." In another post to X, Hammoud stated that one Dearborn resident has so far lost 80 family members in Gaza.

Vote Uncommitted is encouraging voters unhappy with Mr. Biden's stance on the Israel-Hamas war to vote uncommitted, no matter their party affiliation or background. The campaign describes itself as a "multiracial and multifaith anti-war campaign" in Michigan.

"This is not an endorsement of Trump or a desire to see him return to power," the campaign states. "We are sending the warning sign to President Biden and the Democratic Party now in February, before it's too late in November."

A similar push occurred in 2008 when Michigan Democratic primary voters unhappy that Barack Obama was not on the ballot voted "uncommitted," rather than for Hillary Clinton. Because Michigan defied the Democratic National Committee's national calendar and held its primary out of order, the DNC sanctioned the state for holding its primary out of order. As a result, Obama withdrew his name from the Michigan primary ballot. That year, nearly 240,000 Michiganders voted "uncommitted."

The state's Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, recently acknowledged on CBS News' "Face the Nation" that there is "a lot of angst" around the Israel-Hamas war and "a lot of personal pain." 

"These are legitimate and raw feelings that people have, and they're entitled to their opinions," said Whitmer.

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