Biden ally meets Arab American leaders in Michigan and tries to lower tensions over Israel-Hamas war

Biden ally meets Arab American leaders in Michigan and tries to lower tensions over Israel-Hamas war

DEARBORN, Mich. — As Thursday dawned in Dearborn, Michigan, Arab-American leaders entered a local coffeehouse and greeted Rep. Ro Khanna of California before pulling up chairs at a table.

Over the next two hours, the leaders spoke about how they were personally affected by the war in Gaza and criticized President Joe Biden over the growing number of Palestinians killed in the Israeli offensive following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. Khanna, a Biden campaign surrogate who independently organized the meeting, listened attentively.


It was a rare, unfiltered conversation between two parties that have grown further apart. And after a day of meetings, it seemed unlikely the two sides could reunite unless the administration changes course on a ceasefire in Gaza, which both the White House and Israel oppose.

While Biden is expected to emerge victorious in Tuesday’s Democratic primaries, the president’s allies are also trying to avoid any potential embarrassment from a push for Michigan Democrats to vote “unfettered.” Biden and many leaders — including Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib – have pushed in recent weeks for an “uncommitted” to send a message about Biden’s handling of the war.

Khanna, who has also called for a ceasefire, did not visit Michigan on behalf of the campaign.

He argues that Democrats don’t have to wait until Tuesday’s primaries to see that Biden’s reelection campaign is in trouble in a battleground he almost certainly can’t afford to miss in November.

“I will have the same feeling on Monday as I did on Wednesday,” Khanna said. “We need to change course, and quickly.”

Biden has supported Israel since the Oct. 7 attack in which Hamas militants killed 1,200 people and kidnapped another 250. He has pushed Congress to fund additional weapons and aid for Israel as it mounts an offensive to capture Hamas operatives and rescue Israeli hostages.

The White House has also publicly stated its disagreement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on issues such as a two-state solution, which Biden supports even though Netanyahu and many in his far-right governing coalition oppose it, and the number of civilians killed . by Israel.

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In a statement, Biden campaign spokesman Ammar Moussa said Biden “works closely and proudly with leaders in the ‘Muslim and Arab American communities’ to listen to them on a wide range of issues.”

“He urged Israel to do everything possible to prevent civilian casualties,” Moussa said. “He has also successfully pushed for the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza.”

Khanna invited an Associated Press reporter to join some of his rallies in Michigan.

First was breakfast with former Rep. Andy Levin, who joked Thursday that his new job title is “local activist.” Levin is a self-described Zionist and former synagogue president who has called for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Levin lost a Democratic primary to fellow Rep. Haley Stevens two years ago, with pro-Israel groups spending more than $4 million against him.

Levin said he doesn’t see how Biden “can win Michigan without changing course.”

“What do you think would happen if the election were tomorrow?” Khanna asked.

“It would be a disaster for the Democrats,” Levin responded.

The former Democratic congressman supports Michigan Democrats’ vote in the upcoming primaries, saying that “if everyone just sat at home, we wouldn’t be able to measure it.” Many leaders in the “uncommitted” push have made it clear that they want to send a message, but that they have no intention of supporting Trump’s re-election bid.

Leaders from the Arab American community soon arrived to join Levin and Khanna. Among them were leaders of the Muslim advocacy group Emgage Action and Deputy Wayne County Executive Assad I. Turfe.

When asked by Khanna what policy changes they would like to see, Turfe – a prominent local leader – said a ceasefire in the war is just a start, and that humanitarian aid and Gaza reconstruction must follow. Resuming funding for the main United Nations organization supporting the people of Gaza, known as UNRWA, is also a demand from the communities.

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Michigan’s Arab-American leaders are demonstrating unprecedented unity within their community. Divided in the past by issues like book bans and LGBTQ rights, the Gaza conflict has brought solidarity among Palestinians, Lebanese, Yemenis and others in a state that hosts the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the country.

“We are in an emotional state, which is driving this passion,” Turfe said. “But if we address the changes we want, those emotions will diminish.”

During a drive from Dearborn to an event in Ann Arbor, Khanna told The Associated Press that he was struck by how “deeply personal” the issue was for the community and how “raw the anger is.”

“This is not electoral for this community. It is emotional and personal,” said Khanna. “No change in campaign language can fix this, only policy change.”

Khanna hosted a ceasefire town hall with Michigan Rep. Thursday afternoon. Debbie Dingell and students from the University of Michigan. Students spent nearly an hour questioning Khanna’s stance on the war, his support for Biden and how to address voter apathy, especially among young voters on campus.

Later Thursday, Khanna sat next to Tlaib in a UAW hall in Dearborn packed with residents of Detroit’s Wayne County. While the “Take Back Our Power” event focused on reducing the political influence of utilities, Tlaib’s speech bore clear similarities to her plea for voters to send a message to Democrats on Tuesday.

“Transformative change does not come from who is in Congress, who is in the establishment, organizations and institutions,” Tlaib said. “It comes from the street.”