Hassan Abdel Salam, a human rights professor based in Minneapolis, was concerned about the White House’s messaging — or lack thereof — this month.
After Israeli forces began a bombing campaign in Gaza in retaliation for the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants, President Joe Biden was swift to send condolences for the Israeli lives lost. But as the death toll continued to rise in Gaza, Abdel Salam waited for any public mention of those Gazans killed, news about evacuating Americans trapped in the region, or a push for a cease-fire.
Eventually, Abdel Salam had enough. If he didn’t see a prompt pivot in the White House’s messaging, he decided that not only would he not vote for Biden, but he’d encourage people in his community to do the same.
“What’s happening is betrayal,” Abdel Salam told HuffPost. “Betrayal of what we assumed was a promise and commitment to listen to us, at the very least.”
Abdel Salam is one of a growing number of Muslim and Arab voters who say they are frustrated with the Democratic Party, and are vowing not to cast their votes for Biden in 2024. Muslim and Arab organizers said they cannot in good faith encourage their communities to support Biden’s reelection, and some say they won’t vote for any down-ballot Democrats either. Muslim organizers and advocacy groups have signed petitions, written letters and taken to social media to announce their disapproval of the president’s Israel strategy.
Some Muslim voters are considering whether to vote Republican, or for a third party. Others say they may not vote at all.
On Friday, a coalition of Muslims in Minnesota held a press conference delivering an ultimatum to the president: Call for a cease-fire, or lose the Muslim vote in the state. Biden is preparing to visit Minnesota, a state with some 50,000 Muslim voters, on Wednesday. Muslim Americans make up roughly 1% of the U.S. population, but their numbers are rapidly growing and both parties are increasingly vying for their support.
“The Democratic Party has not actually felt the brunt of the Muslim vote,” said Jaylani Hussein, a community organizer based in Minnesota. “They’ve taken us for granted.”
The White House did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Many Muslim and Arab staffers in the federal government have expressed their own disappointment in the administration. Some told HuffPost that they and their colleagues feel silenced, unable to voice their policy concerns.
The White House has stepped up its outreach to Muslim and Arab leaders and groups over the past week. On Thursday, Biden quietly hosted a meeting for a handful of Muslim leaders, where attendees brought up their concerns about the president’s lack of outreach to Muslim and Arab Americans at home and public sympathy for Palestinians in Gaza.
But many groups say the White House’s attempt to rekindle trust with Arabs and Muslims is too late, and that securing their votes, especially in key swing states, will be an uphill battle.
“We know the population of Muslims and voters in those precise states can make the difference,” Abdel Salam said. “If he loses even potentially just one of them, he could lose the election in 2024. So this is not a group that he can play with, and [he] has to listen to us.”
There are approximately 200,000 registered Muslim voters in Michigan, a crucial battleground state in next year’s election. In 2020, Biden narrowly won Michigan, where Muslims turned out in droves to vote for him. Muslims also hold sizable populations in swing states like Pennsylvania and Georgia.
In Minnesota, Abdel Salam and Hussein say they have been on calls with residents, imams, university students, mosque leaders and community centers who feel betrayed. Abdel Salam started his own petition online, calling for fellow Muslims to pledge not to vote for Biden. As of Monday, more than 3,700 people had signed it.
“Muslims have never been united in America, until now,” Hussein said. “We feel the bombs dropping on our homes as is dropping on Gaza, and then we feel the weight of our nation who is behind it and we feel helpless that we can’t do anything about it.”
“Those forces are uniting us in ways we have never thought,” he added. “Beyond prayer, we’re going to exercise every right and every power we have. The ballot box is perhaps one of our most significant ways that we can make a change, not for us as Muslims, and not just for Palestinians, but for the nation that we love and live in.”
Yasmine Taeb, a progressive strategist and legislative and political director for MPower Change Action, a Muslim advocacy group, told HuffPost that her organization has decided against endorsing candidates in the general election next month in Virginia, and said it will not engage in any Muslim voter outreach efforts. Instead, the group will focus on building support for the Ceasefire Now Resolution, legislation introduced by several congressional Democrats earlier this month that calls for a cease-fire and for humanitarian aid in Gaza.
“It’s very clear the White House and the Democratic Party of Virginia don’t care about our community,” Taeb said. “Why should we even care to make calls and send texts to get Muslims and Arab Americans out to vote for their candidates?”
Last week, Biden cast doubt on the casualty figures reported from Gaza as Israel continues its U.S.-backed military operation there. However, officials have themselves internally cited the death toll and other data provided by authorities inside Gaza.
When the White House sent Dilawar Syed ― deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration, and the highest-ranking Muslim American official in the Biden administration ― to speak at a memorial for Wadea Al-Fayoume, the Palestinian Muslim child who was killed in an alleged hate crime in Illinois, the crowd booed.
“Biden should have gone to the funeral,” said Nadia Ahmad, a member of the Democratic National Committee and a law professor based in Orlando, Florida.
Ahmad was among the more than two dozen progressive Democratic Party leaders who signed their own statement echoing calls for a cease-fire and for the White House to do more to de-escalate violence. She said the White House’s inaction is moving Muslim and Arab voters to sit out the election entirely.
Biden’s comments “have been nothing less than heartbreaking, shocking, shameful, and totally inaccurate,” said Democratic activist Aliyah Khan, who has also signed on to a letter addressed to the Democratic Party calling for a cease-fire.
Khan said that if she doesn’t see a pivot in Biden’s plan, she’ll sit out next year’s election. She has heard the same from others in Virginia, where she lived for over 35 years and where roughly 200,000 Muslims live.
“If you want to lose, then your leadership can keep doing what you’re doing,” she said.