After attending the Oct. 20 prayer for Gaza on the Washington Mall, my mother, a lifelong Democrat and union member, called me and said, “Son, I’m done with Democrats. Biden is letting the killing of children happen.” My mother lives in Virginia, a light blue state with a Republican governor and a large concentration of Muslim, Arab and young progressive voters who are strongly opposed to President Joe Biden’s alliance with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his approach to the war in Gaza.
What my mom said hit me hard because I desperately want Biden and the Democrats to win re-election and secure strong majorities in 2024. Like many progressive Democrats, I have been pleasantly surprised by the president’s actions on climate, the economy and student debt. My mother’s comments didn’t shock me, however, because they spoke to the deep disappointment I’ve personally felt in Biden’s handling of the violence in Israel and Gaza.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been inundated with messages from Muslim and Arab Americans and from millennial organizers who powered movements like the anti-Iraq War protests, Black Lives Matter and the Green New Deal, and who helped turn out the vote for Democrats in 2020 and 2022 — all echoing my mother’s sentiment: They’re done with the Democratic Party.
A majority of Democrats and independents?oppose?sending weapons to Israel, according to an Oct. 19 CBS/YouGov poll. Gallup’s most recent?poll?found Biden’s popularity fell 11 points in October to a historic low among Democrats. Among voters age 35 and younger, 65% opposed military aid to Israel, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. These organizers and voters aren’t going to vote for former President Donald Trump, but they could very well sit out the election or vote for a third-party candidate if Biden and Democrats stay their current course.
On Oct. 11, White House Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre?referred to the demonstration of a handful of anti-war representatives in Congress calling for a cease-fire in Gaza and an end to military aid to Israel as “wrong,” “repugnant” and “disgraceful.” It took Biden five?days to call the family of 6-year-old Wadea al-Fayoume, a Palestinian American child of refugees who was murdered in a vicious and violent hate crime. Meanwhile, Biden called the families of Israeli hostages within two hours of their release.
Congress held a bipartisan?vigil?for Israeli lives lost in the war, but has made no space for corresponding mourning for the nearly 2,000 Palestinian?children?who’ve been killed by the Israeli government, or in memory of little Wadea. White House?chief of staff?Jeff Zients reportedly sent a staffwide email to express solidarity with Jewish staff but made no mention of how the Israeli state’s response was affecting Gazans, let alone Arab or Muslim Americans. In Congress, nearly 400 members signed a?resolution?mourning Israeli lives and restating an unconditional alliance with Israel, but the resolution makes no mention of the thousands of Palestinians who’ve died from Israeli bombs.
Each of these moments of neglect has contributed to a feeling among Muslim and Arab American Democrats that the leaders of the party that are supposed to represent them are dehumanizing them instead. These things are personal — they hit on a core level of identity, trust and belonging. Many Muslim and Arab Democrats have found the outpouring of support and care for Jewish Americans to be heartwarming, even while they have also been heartbroken and enraged that the same care hasn’t been extended to Arab and Muslim Americans or to Palestinians.
Some note, of course, that Trump is even more bigoted against this community. This is unquestionably true. But Biden is the incumbent and the Democratic Party at least purports to be the party of multicultural, tolerant democracy.
When Arab and Muslim Americans feel dehumanization from their Democratic representatives and this level of invisibility in their ostensibly liberal and humane workplaces, when they see people who look like them, with names like theirs, being indiscriminately bombed by U.S.-funded weapons, why would we think we have a president or party who cares about people like us?
As someone deeply invested in the success of Democrats against the MAGA movement, I’m concerned about what Biden’s handling of Israel and Gaza will mean. Arab Americans are not an enormous voting bloc, but in key states like Michigan — which helped Trump to victory in 2016 despite his myriad insults to Muslims, people of color, immigrants, women, people with disabilities and so on — they are a crucial one.
This is a real threat that Biden and the people around him need to take seriously. Just ask Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., who lived in Dearborn for 40 years and is no leftist firebrand on the issue of Israel and the Palestinians. “Michigan is a competitive state and it’s purple to begin with. With these complicated dynamics, it’s going to make it one of the most challenging states in the country,” Dingell said.
There is a wall that blinds so many Democratic strategists from seeing Palestinian, Arab and Muslim Americans as real constituencies in the party, a wall so thick that it doesn’t even occur to them why expressing concern, again and again, only for Israelis during this time would be a problem.?Occasional remarks from the Biden administration that lives on both sides matter ring hollow when it appears to make no effort to restrain the Israeli government’s indiscriminate killing.
There is still time to correct the course. Biden cautioned the Israeli government against repeating the same mistakes our government made after 9/11. Senior officials told NBC News that Biden’s team has counseled restraint and that this approach has “paid off.” But it’s clear that this is not enough. Biden needs to emphasize, publicly and emphatically, the need for a different approach, discouraging a continued ground invasion of Gaza, insisting on a cease-fire, and reminding Netanyahu that throughout the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, bloodshed has only ever begotten more bloodshed.?
There is no military solution; there is only a political one, and that only begins when the fighting stops. Maybe Israel will be able to kill or capturing 40,000 Hamas fighters in surgical strikes. But the resulting unspeakable destruction and casualties will doubtless enrage Palestinian civilians, making them more likely to support Hamas, and Israel will be no safer. You only have to look to the U.S.’s special operations in Afghanistan over the past 15 years to see the failure of such an approach. Arab and Muslim Americans and millions of other Americans opposed to Israel’s strategy understand that the U.S. is helping finance this war, providing missiles and bombs that are leveling neighborhoods full of people who look like us.
If Biden continues to allow and enable that, he will break a fundamental trust, and no amount of lecturing about the greater evil in 2024 will repair it. The future of American democracy is at stake; we need young people to turn out in record numbers. Giving Netanyahu a blank check to wage a war of vengeance isn’t helping. I pray, for all our sakes, that the Biden administration corrects course — because our country cannot afford to pay the bill for disregarding Palestinian lives should it come due in 2024.?