Muslim voters disillusioned with President Biden’s position on Israel are facing the prospect of a difficult choice in 2024.
Voters The Hill spoke with said they feel betrayed, angry and disappointed with the way Biden has stood steadfastly with Israel despite its bombardment of Gaza.
Yet the Republican candidate facing Biden at this stage seems likely to be former President Trump, who famously issued a travel ban on predominantly Muslim nations in his first days in office. Trump, who is leading his GOP rivals in polls, has vowed to reinstate a travel ban if elected.
Biden has forcefully backed Israel’s right to defend itself, arguing it should do what it needs to do to defeat Hamas, which controls Gaza and is responsible for an Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians.
The president has urged Israel to take steps to limit civilian casualties and has sought to draw a line between innocent Palestinians and Hamas, but many Muslim voters are angered by how strongly he has sided with Israel.
“I think for this point, he’s sealed his fate. I have no interest. There’s nothing he can do to get my vote,” said one Muslim voter in New York City, who asked that their name be withheld given the sensitivity of the topic.
Ameerah Al-Zahrani, a Pittsburgh, Pa. voter who is Muslim, said she feels “extremely discouraged” about the 2024 election and is considering a vote for Cornel West, the Harvard professor and longtime critic of Israel who is challenging Biden from the left.
“I certainly will not be voting for [Biden], Kamala [Harris] or Trump. I know many fellow critical thinkers who are filled with humanity from our communities and allies, whether Palestinian, Arabs, Muslims or our anti-Zionist Jewish siblings, who will not vote for them either,” she said.
A voter in Dearborn, Mich., which boasts one of the largest Muslim American populations in the country, was torn over their possible 2024 decision.
“I’ve been concerned for some time about our choices in November next year. I am not a supporter of Donald Trump’s, never have been, never will be,” said the voter, who also asked that their name be withheld given the charged politics surrounding the war.
“I’m also pragmatic enough to know that every president deals with a decision like that, especially when we’re dealing with allies and international issues,” the voter said of Biden and his handling of the war. “I don’t throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to politics.”
The loss of even a small number of voters could be critical for Biden or Trump, assuming they are their party’s nominees in the presidential race that is a year away.
Biden won the 2020 race over Trump in a tight contest determined by slim margins in a handful of states.
In a memo released Thursday, Biden campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodriguez said her team feels “well-prepared to defeat whoever emerges from the extreme MAGA Republicans’ primary field,” but “this will be a very close general election.”
Biden won 64 percent of the Muslim vote in 2020, and Trump won 35 percent, according to exit polling by The Associated Press.
Besides the Muslim travel ban policy, Trump also made the controversial move to relocate the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and declare it Israel’s capital, which infuriated Arabs in the region.
Still, political strategists in the Muslim community say Biden faces an obvious political danger with U.S. Muslims.
“Will there be political consequences? Based on the numbers that I’m seeing and based on the conversations that I’m having with young people and Arab Muslim Americans across the country, there is not a shred of doubt in my mind,” said Abbas Alawieh, a senior progressive strategist currently working in Dearborn.
Most U.S. Muslims identify as Democrats, according to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), though about 40 percent identify as independents.
“The large politically independent segment of Muslims also suggests that many Muslims may not feel squarely at home in either party,” said ISPU executive director Meira Neggaz. “This group was already sort of primed to not be beholden to either party, so with widespread anger and frustration with what’s happening over Gaza, now what’s going to happen with that group of independents?”
Alawieh noted that on the ground in Michigan, the Republican party is working hard to attract Muslims who may align with the GOP on wedge social issues.
“I don’t think they’ve won back this community — a community that voted Republican in much higher numbers pre-9/11,” he said.
“But I think they have been putting a fair amount of work and in a moment like this, the president’s failure to call for a cease-fire that saves the lives of Palestinian children is exactly the kind of thing that has the potential to open the flood gates of people abandoning the long streak of supporting Democrats.”
New polling this week showed Biden’s support among Arab American voters plummeting to just 17 percent, down 42 percentage points compared to 2020. The Arab American Institute, which conducted the poll, said it marks the first time in 26 years of polling Arab Americans that the majority did not claim to prefer the Democratic Party.
Democrats are largely shrugging off worries for now, noting the election is a year away and saying Trump will turn off many voters.
A former Biden aide, who is Muslim, described the hurt and pain in the Muslim community but was confident the White House can improve its standing.
“I think it is now going to be incumbent on the White House to assure these voters that they do indeed have their back,” the source said. “To show empathy, to be there for them. If there’s any president, any White House, who can do it, it’s this White House.”
The White House this week announced it is developing a strategy to counter Islamophobia.
When questioned on whether the Islamophobia strategy is too little too late, the White House has stressed it’s a “very genuine effort” that stems from thinking that predates Oct. 7.
The New York City voter, however, argued there’s no home for Muslims in either major U.S. party.
“We have the power as voters to hold our elected officials accountable and I think until they show us that they are interested in our freedoms and our people, then we will,” the voter said. “The faith that people of color have in the American democratic system is also just severely in question right now.”