US President Joe Biden campaigned Thursday in the crucial swing state of Michigan, where growing Arab-American anger at his pro-Israel policies threatens to cut into already tight margins of support.
Biden was welcomed to the Midwestern state in part by pro-Palestinian protesters accusing him of supporting a “genocide” in Gaza, with a demonstration taking place near his meeting with members of the United Auto Workers union, whose leadership recently endorsed him.
As the Israeli military keeps pounding Hamas in Gaza in retribution for the group’s October 7 attacks, and the civilian death toll keeps rising, Biden is finding himself confronted regularly at public events by protesters and hecklers demanding a ceasefire.
The Democrat began his Michigan visit by chatting with diners in a restaurant popular with African Americans — another demographic whose support he needs as he seeks reelection and the defeat of his likely challenger Donald Trump.
However, he risks losing the votes of the state’s sizeable community of Muslims and people of Arab heritage this November. That could be a problem in an election decided by tiny margins.
Michigan is one of a handful of swing states that could go either way in November, playing a decisive role in the electoral math during a close election.
Biden only beat Trump narrowly there in 2020.
Illustrating the tension, Biden’s campaign manager went last week to Dearborn — home to the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States — only to be snubbed by the Detroit suburb’s mayor.
Apparently hoping to wrong-foot protesters on Thursday, the White House did not say ahead of time which town Biden would be visiting — only that it was in the Detroit area.
Biden didn’t meet with any representatives of the Arab-American community while in the state, though senior administration officials will visit Michigan to do so shortly, the White House said.
The president has asked Congress for billions of dollars in additional military aid to Israel and his government has vetoed multiple UN Security Council calls for a ceasefire in the conflict, leaving many Muslims and people of Middle Eastern heritage feeling betrayed by the Democratic Party, traditionally their political home.
They accuse the 81-year-old of sacrificing civilians in Gaza, which is facing a serious humanitarian crisis, in the name of supporting Israel.
But White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday that Biden was “heartbroken by the suffering of innocent Palestinians.”
Before leaving Washington for Thursday’s trip, Biden announced sanctions against four hardline Israeli settlers accused of attacking Palestinians in the West Bank.
Biden said the situation there was “a serious threat to the peace, security and stability.”
“The situation in the West Bank — in particular high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages, and property destruction — has reached intolerable levels,” Biden said in his order announcing the sanctions.
The current fighting in Gaza was triggered by Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of around 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
Following the attack, the deadliest in Israel’s history, its military launched a withering offensive that has killed at least 26,900 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
On Wednesday a group of Dearborn organisations called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
The city’s mayor, Abdullah Hammoud, had earlier written on X, formerly Twitter, that he refused to meet with Biden’s campaign manager.
“I will not entertain conversations about elections while we watch a live-streamed genocide backed by our government,” he said.