DEARBORN – The efforts of President Biden’s campaign to restore the dialogue with Arab and Muslim American voters in the Detroit area failed following the cancellation of a meeting last Friday scheduled to bring together Biden-Harris National Campaign Manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez, local elected Arab American officials and community leaders.
However, the publisher of The Arab American News, Osama Siblani, received Chavez Rodriguez, accompanied by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D- Ann Arbor) and Michigan’s Biden-Harris Campaign Manager Ed Duggan in his office at The Arab American News in Dearborn, sending fiery messages to Biden in a blunt conversation that lasted more than one and half hours.
Siblani said that despite the several requests he received from community activists not to meet with the campaign team, he felt that — in his capacity as a journalist and publisher of the largest and oldest Arab American publication in the country — he is obligated by the profession and his commitment for four decades to tell the Arab American story to keep the line of communications open and relay the message loud and clear of the community’s disgust with the Biden administration to those who seek to hear it.
“I was frank; I told her exactly what the community feels about Biden,” said Siblani, who supported the president in 2020 but won’t vote for him again. “I told her they canceled the meeting because they do not feel like the discussion is going to get them anywhere. We look at Biden now as a partner of committing genocide against Palestinians. He is in the eyes of many a criminal like Netanyahu.
I was frank; I told her exactly what the community feels about Biden. I told her they canceled the meeting because they do not feel like the discussion is going to get them anywhere. We look at Biden now as a partner of committing genocide against Palestinians. He is in the eyes of many a criminal like Netanyahu. – Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab American News
“You have to understand the community you are visiting ― it consists mainly of Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinians, Iraqis and Yemenis, and these are the countries that president Biden is bombing,” he added. “…This dialogue should have started three months ago. No way in hell that we can support him.”
He added that Chavez Rodriguez listened and was “attentive and respectful,” promising to convey his message to Biden.
“You’re still giving Netanyahu money,” he said. “You’re still giving him weapons and super bombs. You’re still giving him ammunition to go kill and destroy.
“I said, ‘We are not able even to discuss this. If you are here to listen, then listen very carefully, because our community is not going to give Biden the vote because we do not trust him anymore.'”
If Biden himself comes to Michigan and requests a meeting with Arab Americans, “he is going to be faced with the same thing ― people are not going to meet with him,” Siblani said.
“In the 2020 elections, we supported many Democratic candidates,” he said. “Biden, who promised us then that we will have a seat at the table in his administration, didn’t keep his promises. In fact, he removed us from the entire room.”
He pointed out that the Arab community had a reception for Biden’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden, in Dearborn despite the COVID pandemic at that time and that she in turn promised a seat at the table and broke the promises she made.
“The same is true with his running mate then, Vice President Kamala Harris,” he said.
“Another failure of the Biden administration and U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D- Michigan), who chairs the Homeland Security Committee in the Senate, is not addressing the continuous harassment, discrimination and needless interrogation that Arab and Muslim Americans face at the U.S. port of entries at the hands of CBP officers,” Siblani said, adding that these elected officials turned their backs on the Arab American community that had supported and voted for them when the community needed them.
When elected officials view the atrocities in Gaza only as an electoral problem, they reduce our indescribable pain into a political calculation. I will not entertain conversations about elections while we watch a live-streamed genocide backed by our government. – Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud
Arab and Muslim American voters throughout the United States, and in the Great Lakes State in particular, have repeatedly vowed to abandon Biden in the 2024 presidential election, in protest against his political, military and financial support for the aggression launched by Israel against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip since October 7.
The meeting coordinator, Deputy Wayne County Executive Assad Turfe, explained that canceling the meeting came in response to broad demands from Arab and Muslim American activists, including local Democratic elected officials in the Detroit area who were determined to reject any initiatives aimed at healing the rift with President Biden, unless and until he calls for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and the West Bank; and for Israel to cease its military operations in the Strip for the fourth month in a row, which has left more than 27,000 dead and more than 60,000 wounded and 2.3 million homeless and threatened with starvation and famine.
“When the local Arab and Muslim communities learned about the meeting, many expressed their anger and dissatisfaction with communicating with President Biden’s campaign, which ultimately led to a decision to cancel the meeting,” Turfe said. Pointing out that the meeting was suppose to bring about 15 local leaders in a face-to-face meeting with Chavez Rodriguez.
The Biden campaign had requested a meeting with Arab leaders and officials in the Detroit area during recent weeks, as part of a “listening” tour to hear the concerns of voters of various communities in Michigan — including the Arab, Latino and African American communities — as part of efforts by the White House, as well as the Biden-Harris reelection campaign, to have “thoughtful conversations” with those communities and others across the United States.
Turfe said the campaign will not be able to restore the confidence of the Arab American community in the Detroit area that easily “unless a radical change in Biden’s policy towards the Israeli war on Gaza occurs.” He added that Arab Americans insist that the campaign is not welcome in the community unless an agreement is reached to permanently cease Israeli hostilities against Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud criticized President Biden’s decision to send his campaign manager to meet with the Arab and Muslim communities in the Detroit area, describing it as “insulting” and suggesting that the president should have sent a team of “policy makers” to conduct a “meaningful dialogue” with Arab and Muslim American leaders.
Hammoud, Wayne County Commissioner Sam Baydoun and Democratic State Reps. Alabas Farhat of Dearborn and Abraham Aiyash of Hamtramck were among those invited to the meeting with Chavez Rodriguez. All declined the invitation.
Hammoud tweeted Friday that it’s “not a moment for electoral politics.”
The campaign will not be able to restore the confidence of the Arab American community in the Detroit area that easily, unless a radical change in Biden’s policy towards the Israeli war on Gaza occurs. – Assad Turfe, Wayne County Deputy Executive
“When elected officials view the atrocities in Gaza only as an electoral problem, they reduce our indescribable pain into a political calculation,” he tweeted. “I will not entertain conversations about elections while we watch a live-streamed genocide backed by our government.”
Baydoun slammed the Biden administration’s handling of the Israeli war on Gaza in a post on his Facebook page.
“The Arab American community has been calling for a ceasefire and demanding basic justice for the Palestinian people for over 100 days,” he wrote. “And for over 100 days, those calls have fallen on deaf ears. When it comes to acknowledging Palestinian humanity, we’ve heard only radio silence. But now, the people who are sanctioning this genocide against our will and with our tax dollars want to ask for our votes.
“It is a travesty of democracy to ignore our voices for over 100 days, and then to assume our principles are up for negotiation,” he added.
Prominent state Democrats have voiced concern that Arab Americans in Michigan — who tend to vote Democratic — staying home or even voting for the Republican nominee in November could have a significant impact in the battleground state. Biden defeated former President Trump in Michigan in 2020 by about 154,000 votes or 3 percentage points.
Michigan has among the largest communities of Arab Americans in the country, with more than 300,000 residents of Middle Eastern or North African ancestry, according to Census Bureau estimates. If a sizable faction of them swings from Democrat to Republican, Turfe noted, that could be a problem for Biden.
Last month the nonpartisan Cook Political Report shifted Michigan’s presidential election from the “leans” Democrat category to “toss-up,” citing in part Democratic ire at Biden over his deference to Israel and response to the Palestinian casualty rate.
The Arab American community has been calling for a ceasefire and demanding basic justice for the Palestinian people for over 100 days. And for over 100 days, those calls have fallen on deaf ears. – Sam Baydoun, Wayne County Commissioner
A statewide poll this month found a 38 percent plurality of likely general election voters in Michigan said Israel has gone “too far” in its response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, while 22 percent said Israel’s military retaliation in Gaza has been about right and 14 percent said it hadn’t gone far enough.
The survey of 600 respondents also found nearly one in three (32 percent) of respondents said the United States’ support of Israel amid the conflict has been adequate, while another 28 percent feel it’s been over the top and 16 percent said it’s not enough.
The poll was conducted Jan. 2-6 by the Glengariff Group for The Detroit News and WDIV-TV (Channel 4) and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The survey found that Democratic and independent voters were more likely to conclude that Israel has gone too far, and base Democratic voters said U.S. support for Israel is too much.