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Column: Primary Elections Dampen Middle East Issue as an Obstacle to Biden

‘You want my vote? You cannot kill my people in my name.’

— Terry Ahwal, Palestinian-American from Detroit suburb

    As of Oct. 6, I believed that President Biden would likely sweep all solidly Democratic states and most if not all the swing states, a view that was thrown into doubt during the last five months. It took Tuesday, Feb. 27, to revert to my original expectations for Nov. 5. Biden has a better than even chance for re-election.

    This cannot be classified as a definitive prediction. We can never do that, of course. Drastic changes can be injected into the race at any time.

    That is exactly what happened on Oct. 7. Hamas violated a cease-fire dating back to 2021 by invading southern Israel, murdering 1,200 Israelis and taking 240 Israelis hostage; 100 were released. I thought this could turn into a huge problem for Biden.

    Opposition to Israel’s military response grew steadily as the death toll in Gaza rose long before it reached the 30,000-mark in the past week. Arab-Americans especially mounted a campaign to vote “uncommitted” in the Feb. 27 primaries in Michigan.

    “Uncommitted” received an impressive 100,000 votes on Feb. 27, 13 percent of the Democratic primary vote. Biden took 618,000 votes, which is 150,000 less than Donald Trump’s numbers of 756,000 votes in the Republican primary. However, the former president was running against a human, ex-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. She received 300,000 votes, triple the amount for “Uncommitted.”

    In eight months, we will learn if Biden can win enough electoral votes without being dragged down by “Uncommitted.” Democratic leaders fear that Biden could lose enough votes to “Uncommitted” that Donald Trump will win pluralities in enough swing states to deny Biden a second term.

    The stakes were never higher for America. We have in Biden a president – in partnership with most congressional Democrats – who has strived hard to improve the lives of American citizens and supports our democratic allies, especially Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. He surely has faults, faults that could lead to serious consequences, but with Trump we can be assured of more severe troubles. By faults, I am referring to the potential effects of Biden’s age.

    Our former president is a traitor for helping ogres like Russian President Vladimir Putin. He does not care about vulnerable citizens here. That is more than enough.

    After Michigan, I am less worried about the outcome of the general election, assuming that Biden and Trump are the nominees. I also expect that Democrats will retake control of the House of Representatives; Democratic turnout is usually heavier during presidential elections. However, it is a reasonable possibility that Republicans will flip the Senate with a narrow majority.

    Senate Republicans will not always be helpful, but they cannot afford to be as obstructive as GOP House members. They represent states that are diverse, unlike House districts which are more conservative.

    Democrats are wisely paying attention to Palestinian suffering. Arab-Americans in Michigan, a pivotal swing state, sent Biden the message that they could threaten his re-election campaign. Arab-Americans form the largest Arab community in America in cities like Dearborn, a Detroit suburb. Team Biden is pressing hard for a cease-fire by speaking out and offering outreach to Arab voters.

    Biden may well survive Arab-American pushback, but they are going to be harsh. Many already plan to ignore Biden and Trump, even though they concur that Trump will likely be worse. Citing numerous episodes which she believed were harmful to Gazans, Terry Ahwal told The New York Times, “It was just basically a process of delaying, a process of land theft, a process of deception. What happened is just the Palestinians were snookered…I just don’t buy it anymore.”

    Ahwal, an émigré from the West Bank who now lives in Farmington Hills, does revise some history here. She recalls living in isolation during the Six-Day War in 1067, but she does not mention that her peril stemmed from Jordan’s invasion of Israel. She decries expansion of the so-called settlements, yet she does not recognize that Israelis moved right politically after Arabs set off an uprising after turning down Israel’s plan for an independent Palestinian state in 2000. She is upset that Trump moved the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but what is wrong with that?

    Dearborn voters interviewed by USA Today griped that money spent on Israel could be applied to economic concerns here. “This is being done in our name, our American tax money…That money could be used to solve all the problems here,” said Ali Chahine.

    Not exactly. The government can simultaneously fund both Israeli military aid and “solve all the problems here.” Republicans historically deny funding for domestic programs and both parties support military aid for Israel. Voters like Chahine might well oppose military aid no matter how much money is spent on domestic concerns.

    “Uncommited” made a respectable showing in some states during Super Tuesday’s series of primaries, and it has not proven to be as forceful a factor as originally feared. However, Democrats must continue to counter “Uncommitted’s” campaign.

    Biden also holds a “Trump” card. Election after election in swing states and regions, Democrats prevailed over Republicans by standing for sensible policies in contrast to the GOP’s backwards policies and autocratic attitudes.

    After Super Tuesday, a panelist on MSNBC said that many veteran Republicans are expected to vote for Biden or sit out the election because they reject Trump’s actions, suspected crimes and beliefs. That will probably outweigh Biden’s loss of votes from critics of Israel.

    Trump did not help himself after Biden’s election by breaking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for this substantial reason: “He greeted him very early. Earlier than most world leaders. I’ve not spoken to him since. F—- him.”

    Then he rambled on in a CNN report, saying, “There was no one did more for Netanyahu than me…the first person to run to greet Joe Biden was Netanyahu…not only did he congratulate him – he did it in a video. If you look at the leaders of other countries – like Brazil – he waited months. Putin…All of them also felt that the election was over. But they, too, were waiting. No one did more than me for Bibi. Money too. We gave them a lot of money and gave them soldiers.”

    When Bibi issued a statement congratulating Biden, he behaved in dignified fashion by thanking Trump “for the friendship you have shown the state of Israel and me personally, for recognizing Jerusalem and the Golan, for standing up to Iran, for the historic peace accords and for bringing the American-Israeli alliance to unprecedented heights.”

    If all else fails, Biden can always fall back on singer Taylor Swift’s influence with her army of Swiftie fans.

    About Bruce Ticker

    Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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