Michigan Arab, Muslim leaders fume after Biden visits without meeting

SAGINAW, Mich. — For the second time this year, President Joe Biden visited Michigan without any in-person meetings with members of its Arab American or Muslim communities as he faces protests at campaign events and at the ballot box over Israel’s military action in Gaza.

According to the Biden campaign, the president on Thursday visited Saginaw, which it called “a diverse city with a plurality Black and large Latino population,” for an organizing meeting. It said Biden would deliver remarks to highlight “the stark contrast between his agenda of lowering costs for Michiganders and Donald Trump’s attacks on working families in the state, including his comments this week promising to cut Medicare and Social Security.”

But Biden’s team kept the location of the stop close as it tries to minimize the chances of protests and interruptions at events over Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

In January and February, officials from the campaign and the White House traveled to Dearborn to meet with some members of the Muslim and Arab American communities, but Biden himself didn’t join on either occasion.

Several leaders of the community also chose not to attend as they continue to press Biden to engage more directly with them, demand an immediate cease-fire in the war and place conditions on further U.S. military aid to Israel.

There were still protests in Saginaw on Thursday as activists from the “Abandon Biden” movement held a news conference in the town’s center, urging him to support a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war.

But some organizers say too much violence has already taken place under the Biden administration’s leadership for them to consider re-electing Biden in November.

“I voted for Biden; I had a Biden sign in my front yard, actually. And I am now the co-chair of the Abandon Biden campaign. So is that on me or is that on Joe Biden?” said Khalid Turaani, one of the group’s leaders. “I think Joe Biden’s total failure to address the humanitarian crisis, the genocide that is going on in Gaza, is really a war crime. I mean, it really is a war crime. In a perfect world, I think Joe Biden will be among Benjamin Netanyahu in The Hague.”

In late January, the United Nation’s highest court, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, ordered the Israeli government to take steps to prevent genocide in Gaza but didn’t directly call for a cease-fire in the war or issue a ruling that Israel had committed genocide.

Turaani warned politicians not to underestimate the growing movement across key battleground states like Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania heading into the general election.

“If you want to bet on brushing off this movement, good luck in November,” Turaani said, adding, “We want to make sure that Joe Biden is going to be a one-term president, and we’ll make sure that his loss will be coupled with a disgrace of the genocide in Gaza.”

While Biden made several stops around Saginaw, senior White House officials met privately with Arab American and Muslim community leaders in Chicago, which has a large Palestinian American population.

A source familiar with the plans said the officials heard community leaders speak openly about their concerns surrounding the war in Gaza, as well as rising Islamophobia in the U.S. The source said not all community members who were invited to the meeting attended.

“There are some Muslim leaders who have been pushing the administration to keep trying with communities, even if the White House keeps getting the cold shoulder at first. They want to see the effort,” said another person familiar with the Arab American and Muslim community’s concerns.

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.

It was Biden’s first time back in Michigan since he clinched his party’s 2024 presidential nomination — and since last month’s primary, in which about 13% of voters in the Democratic contest chose the “uncommitted” option, many of them protesting his handling of the Israel-Hamas war. That added up to more than 100,000 voters across the state, raising concerns about Biden’s general election prospects after he beat former President Donald Trump by 154,000 votes in Michigan in 2020.

According to census data, roughly 300,000 people of Middle Eastern and North African descent live in Michigan. Many of those who vote have leaned toward Democrats in the past.

Biden had hoped for a temporary cease-fire by the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started this week. But the plans didn’t materialize after talks between Hamas and Israel failed to produce a deal.

Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud said no one from the White House reached out ahead of Biden’s visit to Saginaw.

He added that local members of the Arab American and Muslim community care more about seeing policy changes than having additional conversations with Biden’s team.

“I think the perspective of the community is dialogue for the sake of dialogue is really not meaningful. What we’re looking for is for action, you know, because lip service doesn’t really get you anywhere,” Hammoud said. “We’ve seen now a change of tone where the president recognizes Palestinian suffering, but what we want are actual concrete steps that are taken to reduce that Palestinian suffering.”

He also said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s calls for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation and for new elections in Israel didn’t go far enough.

“What we have known for decades, Senator Schumer has come to realize — that Benjamin Netanyahu is not a partner nor an ally to the American government or to the American people, and it’s time that we did away with this fascist and with this war criminal,” Hammoud said.

Asked whether he’ll actively campaign against Biden heading into the general election if the White House doesn’t hear his concerns, Hammoud sidestepped slightly and said the region doesn’t have until November to resolve the war.

“People around the world wake up each day and what we find is a kill count — how many innocent men, women and children had been killed,” he said. “And so frankly, we don’t have until November. We’re advocating for a change today to help prevent the killing of innocent men, women and children. And that’s what our focus will be on.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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