FALLS CHURCH (Virginia, US)- Hairdresser Linda Shawish cuts to the chase when asked about President Joe Biden’s decision to unequivocally back Israel’s bombing and ground invasion of Gaza.
“They’re standing for genocide,” the 45-year-old Palestinian American who previously voted for Democrats said outside the popular Halalco grocery in Falls Church, Virginia.
“I definitely won’t be voting Democratic, and if Trump is the Republican candidate, I probably won’t vote at all.”
With a year left until the 2024 presidential election, Arab and Muslim American support for Biden threatens to plummet over his Middle East policy — a factor that could even swing certain states.
Some voters said Israel had a “right to respond”, but all half-dozen who agreed to be on the record, and several more that did not for fear of professional repercussions, agreed that the United States had failed to exercise its leverage over its ally Israel to curtail Palestinian civilian deaths.
“Something has fundamentally broken in the hearts of many Muslim and Arab American Democrats,” Waleed Shahid, a Democratic strategist and former spokesman for Senator Bernie Sanders said.
“They don’t see the president treating Palestinian lives and Israeli lives equally.” While Muslims account for a small fraction of the US population — 4.5 million people, or 1.3 per cent, according to the unofficial US Religious Census — the election “will be decided by a couple of hundred thousand votes in a handful of states,” said Shahid.
In 2020 Biden carried battlegrounds Michigan, Virginia, Georgia and Arizona — but losing Muslim voters in those states could cut short the president’s White House tenure.
Somali-American Hadia Barre said that Muslims in the US have “been marginalised in American politics since 9/11 — and this discriminatory support to Israel is just going to further isolate and distance Muslim voters.”
She said she’s voted Democrat for 30 years. Biden’s “blind support” for Israel was her tipping point. “I will neither vote for Democrats nor Republicans,” the 52-year-old said.
At the nearby Dar Al-Hijrah — one of northern Virginia’s main mosques completed in 1991 by developer Mohamed Hadid, father of models Gigi and Bella — Imam Naeem Baig said the community pinned its hopes on Biden after the pain of the Trump years.
“When it comes to the issues of racial justice and economic justice, you feel Democrats have much more to offer,” he said, adding that Donald Trump, who imposed travel bans on several Muslim countries, made no effort to hide his hostility.
An exit poll conducted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations after the 2020 vote found 69pc of Muslims voted for Biden against just 17pc for Trump.
But the horrific news and images coming from Gaza had cast a sense of depression and trauma, Baig said.
“As of the moment, I will not vote for President Biden,” he said, adding he now found his previous support “very embarrassing.”
Khalid Mekki voiced similar regret. Born in a Gaza refugee camp, he sees it as his duty to speak up for his people — including the family members he can’t reach because of Israeli communication blackouts.
“We love this country, it’s our country,” said the 52-year-old businessman. But “we cannot have blood on our hands — I don’t want it to be in my name.” Several interviewees said the situation was exacerbated by what they called Biden’s insensitivity. -AFP