'The man broke my heart': Biden's Arab-American boosters begin to … – POLITICO

These Arab-Americans were among Biden’s biggest fans. Now they’re warning they — and others — could abandon him in 2024.
People march towards the U.S. Capitol during a pro-Palestinian march calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, on Oct. 21, 2023, in Washington. | Andrew Harnik/AP
By Holly Otterbein

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Maysoon Zayid, a Palestinian American comedian, did everything she could to get Joe Biden elected in 2020.
She starred in a comedy event boosting him. She spoke on a call organized by the Biden campaign featuring Arab women supporting him. Biden’s team even touted her endorsement in a press release.
But after watching how Biden has navigated the Israel-Hamas war over the last two weeks, Zayid said she can no longer vote for him in 2024.
“The man broke my heart,” she said.
As Israel prepares for a likely ground invasion to retaliate against Hamas’ surprise attack on Oct. 7, Zayid is among the many fearful of what’s to come for Gaza. She has a 7-year-old godson in the region.
She wants Biden to push for a ceasefire. She is also scared for Palestinians and Muslims in the United States, some of whom have faced increased hatred and violence since the war began, and feels that Biden has talked about the conflict in a way that has inflamed tensions.
“I never in my life thought the empathizer-in-chief would sound the way he did. The Palestinians were given no humanity,” she said. “Joe Biden should spend every breath he has condemning Israel’s genocide with the same zeal he condemned Hamas’ massacre of civilians, that same zeal. And we get nothing. 1,000 children are dead, and we get nothing.”
In the days since Oct. 7, Biden has enjoyed broad support among voters for his embrace of Israel and condemnation of the Palestinian militant group Hamas. But he is facing anger from many Arab Americans, Muslims and their progressive allies over what they see as an uneven response and failure to push for deescalation.
Hala Hijazi, a Democratic donor and fundraiser who attended the Eid al-Fitr celebration at the White House this year, said she is considering leaving the national finance network that supports Biden over his handling of the war. She said several of her family members have been killed in Gaza since the conflict began, and fears for the lives of more of them.
“I have been one of his biggest fans,” she said of Biden. “I feel betrayed. I feel like my humanity is not equal to anyone else’s humanity.” She doesn’t often speak to the press, she said, but “my family is going to be dead [in the coming days] and I can’t be silent.”
Though Biden strongly condemned Islamophobia and expressed sympathy for Palestinian civilians in a primetime Oval Office speech Thursday, many in Arab and Muslim American communities believe the president and his aides have been reckless in their language, especially initially.
Increasingly, they have amplified their warnings, telling Biden’s team that frustrations among Arab Americans and Muslims could hurt him in the presidential race next year. While those voters make up a small portion of the electorate, they can be a key bloc in tightly contested battleground states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. Exit polls show a clear majority of Muslims voted for Biden in 2020.
The argument being made is not that this bloc will suddenly swing to former President Donald Trump, who has pushed for an expanded Muslim travel ban in recent days. Instead, in more than a dozen interviews with POLITICO, Arab American and Muslim leaders and their allies said they are afraid some voters will sit the election out altogether or vote for a third-party candidate.
“The voters are heartbroken. They don’t want to vote for Trump. But right now they’re asking themselves, ‘How can we vote for the other side given the refusal to call upon Israel to abide by a ceasefire and the continued rhetoric that we’re seeing here domestically?’” said Wa’el Alzayat, CEO of the Muslim advocacy group Emgage. “What I’m most concerned about is actually not whether they’re going to vote for Trump or not, but whether these voters are going to stay home.”
Alzayat, a former U.S. State Department official, said that his group and others have “communicated directly” with the Biden campaign about their worries over 2024 and the administration’s wartime policies.
Biden officials believe that the American public is behind the president in his embrace of Israel. They are also adamant that Biden has been a staunch advocate for Arab and Muslim Americans, in recent days as well as years before the war, and that the contrast between him and Trump on that front is stark.
“The president and this administration have been unequivocal: There is no place for Islamophobia, xenophobia or any of the vile racism we have seen in recent weeks,” said Ammar Moussa, a spokesperson for the Biden campaign. “As MAGA Republicans continue to run on an openly Islamaphobic platform — including renewed support for Donald Trump’s Muslim ban — the stakes of next year’s election could not be more consequential.”
But for Arab and Muslim American leaders, the issue isn’t what Biden’s record was before the war, it’s what it’s been since then.
In the immediate aftermath of Hamas’ attack, which Israeli authorities said left some 1,400 dead, Biden and his administration expressed unqualified support for Israel. Biden’s only mention of Palestinians in a major speech a few days after the attack was to say that Hamas “does not stand for the Palestinian people’s right to dignity and self-determination” and uses “Palestinian civilians as human shields.” Arab American and Muslim leaders felt that didn’t go far enough to make clear to the public that Hamas doesn’t represent Palestinian civilians.
More recently, Biden’s tone has evolved, and he has repeatedly said Hamas doesn’t represent the Palestinian people and expressed concern for Palestinian civilians. He and his top aides have also personally pushed Israel to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, including during his visit to the country.
Behind the scenes, top White House officials have made efforts to make Arab Americans and Muslims in their administration feel more included, after many complained they were being neglected. The president’s senior aides are, among other things, directing cabinet secretaries to reach out to their staff and holding daily calls focused on sensitive messaging.
In his speech Thursday, Biden spoke at length about Palestinians, both in the U.S. and in Gaza.
“I know many of you in the Muslim American community or the Arab American community, the Palestinian American community, and so many others are outraged and hurting, saying to yourselves, ‘Here we go again,’ with Islamophobia and distrust we saw after 9/11,” he said, decrying the death of Wadea Al-Fayoume, a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy who was killed this month in what law enforcement officials said was a hate crime.
“To all of you hurting — those of you who are hurting, I want you to know: I see you,” he added. “You belong. And I want to say this to you: You’re all America. You’re all America.”
But some Arab American and Muslim leaders have dismissed Biden’s recent remarks as too little, too late. Others said that while they appreciate Biden’s comments expressing concern for Palestinian civilians, they recoiled at the actions of his administration, which includes sending weapons to Israel and asking Congress for $14 billion for the country. (Biden’s team has also asked for funding for humanitarian aid for Gaza.)
Hani Almadhoun, a Washington, D.C.-based humanitarian worker, said he is part of a WhatsApp group that used to be a place for pro-Biden activists and fundraisers to talk. It was called “Arab Americans for Biden.”
But since the war began, he said, it was renamed “Arab Americans Forward.” He said the group’s members are furious with Biden, and called the space “basically a Let’s Go Brandon situation.”
Adrian Hemond, a Michigan-based Democratic strategist, cautioned that there is a lot of time between now and Election Day in which voters could change their minds as passions cool. And, he said, voters are highly sympathetic to Israel right now, which could benefit Biden politically.
At the same time, he said, the anger among Arab Americans and Muslims in his state could be a problem for Biden given how close the race is expected to be.
“Look, the president’s margin for error is pretty small,” he said. “He’s not in a super strong position for reelection as it stands right now. And anything that potentially makes that worse is a concern for Democrats.”
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