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War on Gaza: Dearborn's Arab Americans call for boycott of senior Biden officials' visit

Organisers say Biden team's visit divides the community at a time when they need to show a united front against his support for Israel's war on Gaza
Residents of Detroit and the Arab Community of Dearborn march in support of Palestinians in the ongoing war in Gaza, in Dearborn, Michigan on 14 October 2023 (Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images via AFP)
By Umar A Farooq in Dearborn, Michigan

Senior officials in the Biden administration are scrambling to arrange meetings with elected officials and the Arab-American community in Michigan's city of Dearborn, known as the "capital of Arab America", as the fallout over the government's support for Israel's war on Gaza continues to unfold across the country.

Officials were sent to Dearborn on Thursday for meetings with elected officials and Arab-American community leaders, causing mayhem, anger and confusion as organisers and community leaders held protests against the visit. The logistics and times of the meetings have not been disclosed publicly as of yet.

In response to the visit, Arab Americans have called for a boycott of the Biden administration officials who have come to the city of Dearborn to meet with community leaders, saying they are not interested in any meetings without a call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza by the White House.

According to Abed Ayoub, executive director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the Dearborn-based Arab American PAC has put out a call for community members to boycott the meetings.

"The Arab American Political Action Committee calls on all peoples of conscience, and especially Arab Americans, to refuse any meetings with the Biden campaign or administration at this time," AAPAC said in a statement.

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"As bombs continue to fall on Gaza, as massacres continue to take place, there is simply nothing to discuss without a call for a permanent ceasefire from the Biden administration. No electoral or policy discussion can occur under an active genocide."

While elected officials will have meetings with administration officials, which community organisers have little issue with, no major Muslim or Arab organisation will be represented in the meetings with the officials, according to Ayoub.

'Sowing divisions'

The dispatch to Dearborn comes after a failed attempt by the Biden campaign team to meet with Arab-American community leaders in Dearborn late in January. After arriving in the city, many of the planned meetings were cancelled.

Now, instead of his campaign team, the group of top officials that will be present include Samantha Power, head of the US Agency for International Development; Jon Finer, principal deputy national security advisor; and Steven Benjamin, director of the Office of Public Engagement.

Also on the list are Office of Intergovernmental Affairs director Tom Perez and White House liaison to American-Muslim communities Mazen Basrawi.

The names of the officials were reported by the Associated Press and CNN, which first reported the news.

'It's so frustrating because what it does is it sows divisions within our community at a time when we need to show a united front'

- Lexis Zeidan, community organiser

Organisers familiar with some details of the visit told Middle East Eye that there were three planned meetings. One with elected officials, another with members of the Arab-American community, and a third meeting with Palestinian families in Dearborn.

MEE reached out to the White House for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

While some Arab Americans in Dearborn welcomed the meeting, community organisers were outraged that after failing to hold meetings in January, the administration is trying again - in what they say is an attempt to divide the community.

"It's so frustrating because what it does is it sows divisions within our community at a time when we need to show a united front," said Lexis Zeidan, a community organiser in Dearborn.

In response, Project 1948, a local, grassroots organisation centred around education and advocacy for Palestine, is holding a mass public protest against the meetings, saying that "White House officials are NOT welcome in our cities".

The 'uncommitted' campaign

Biden's popularity among Arab and Muslim communities in the US has tanked since Israel's war on Gaza began in October.

The conflict, which came in response to the 7 October Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel that killed 1,139 people, has resulted in Israel's military killing more than 27,000 Palestinians - the majority of whom have been women and children.

The military assault has targeted schools and residential areas, and hospitals have been under siege while medical workers and journalists have been killed by Israeli soldiers.

Rights groups, the UN and hundreds of thousands of Americans have expressed outrage over the military campaign, calling for both a ceasefire and an end to Israel's occupation of Palestine.

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Many have also accused Israel of war crimes, and South Africa submitted an application to the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of committing genocide, which Israel vehemently denies.

From the very beginning of the war, the Biden administration has been an ardent supporter of Israel's assault, choosing to provide the Israeli military and government diplomatic cover as well as military support.

As a result, many in the Arab and Muslim communities of the US have been outspoken in their anger at Biden, and have called to oppose the president in the upcoming presidential election.

This week, a group of elected officials in southeastern Michigan, including Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, announced the launch of a campaign in which they will vote "uncommitted" on the ballots of the upcoming presidential primary later this month.

"The ongoing tragedy in Gaza is an affront to our shared humanity," the group said in a joint statement.

"Therefore, we pledge to check the box for ‘uncommitted’ on our ballots in the upcoming presidential primary election."

In a state like Michigan, a swing state with a population of 200,000 registered voters who are Muslim, and a population of 300,000 people who claim to be of Middle Eastern descent, the Arab and Muslim vote could make or break the election.

"The Biden team is scared. You have to remember, Trump only won Michigan by 10,000 votes in 2016. This state has been a deciding factor for presidential elections for more than a decade," Adam Abusalah, a Dearborn native who previously campaigned for Biden in 2020 but has since repudiated the president.

"That means they need our vote, and they know it."

*An earlier version of this story stated that there were 300,000 registered voters who claim Middle Eastern descent in Michigan. The story has been updated to reflect that there are 300,000 people who claim Middle Eastern descent living in the state.

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