Editorial / March 7, 2024

The Message From Michigan Couldn’t Be More Clear

With “Uncommitted” taking over 100,000 votes in Michigan and nearly 20 percent in Minnesota’s Democratic primary, President Biden must listen—and change course on Israel and Gaza.

Rep. Ro Khanna for The Nation
Abdullah Hammoud, the mayor of Dearnborn, stands with a microphone on stage and speaks at an election night gathering
Abdullah Hammoud, mayor of Dearborn, speaks during an election night gathering hosted by Listen to Michigan, a group urging residents to vote uncommitted in the Democratic presidential primary, on Feb. 27, 2024. (Nic Antaya / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Ahead of Michigan’s presidential primary, I traveled to the state to meet with Arab American leaders, students, and progressives upset over President Biden’s handling of the war in Gaza. As a progressive member of Congress who strongly supports a permanent cease-fire with the release of all hostages, I was there to show respect, hear their concerns, and serve as a liaison to the administration as a member of President Biden’s national advisory board.

My first meeting was at a coffee shop in Dearborn with leaders from Emgage—an organization dedicated to empowering Muslim American communities. Our conversation didn’t center on politics or the push to have Democrats vote “uncommitted” instead of for President Biden. Instead, Assad Turfe, the deputy executive of Wayne County, told me about how both of his grandmothers had been killed in Lebanon by Israeli bombs during the war in 2006. Another participant shared that funding from UNRWA, the main United Nations agency supporting people in Gaza, helped provide the food that allowed her mother to survive and eventually move to the United States. On the trip, I also met with Dearborn’s mayor, Abdullah Hammoud; the Michigan House majority floor leader, Abraham Aiyash; and state Representative Ranjeev Puri, along with other leading figures in the state, and held a town hall at the University of Michigan to discuss a cease-fire with students.

What I heard over and over again was deep hurt, deep anger, and a deep sense of loss and grief. For this community, Israel’s war in Gaza is not electoral politics. It’s emotional and personal.

There needs to be a fundamental shift in the Biden administration’s foreign policy as a first step toward reengagement. And that needs to happen now, in order to give people time to heal. I’ve conveyed these concerns directly to President Biden and his team.

Here’s what I believe needs to happen over the next few weeks: We need a permanent cease-fire, with the release of all hostages. We must halt weapons sales to Israel if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invades Rafah or continues to prevent aid from reaching civilians facing starvation in Gaza. We must resume funding to UNRWA. We need to recognize a Palestinian state—and President Biden, as peacemaker, should convene a big summit with Gulf allies, Palestinian civil society and municipal leaders, and Israeli government and civil society leaders about how to rebuild Gaza and establish a vibrant Palestinian state. These are not just strategic moves but moral imperatives.

As we look toward the 2024 election and beyond, the Democratic Party stands at a crossroads. Let me be clear: I am proud of the president’s win in Michigan and desperately want him to be reelected. If I were a Michigan voter, I would have cast my vote for him. But over 100,000 Democratic voters choosing “uncommitted” should be a warning that the status quo policies on Gaza are eroding the broad, multiracial, modern Democratic coalition that former president Barack Obama and Senator Bernie Sanders built. This issue goes to the heart of the energy that young voters, progressive voters, and voters of color are bringing to the party. The worst thing we could do right now is to shame them or downplay their efforts.

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By listening empathetically and moving in a direction that recognizes the modern Democratic coalition, we can hopefully win back the trust of this community. This will be absolutely critical not only to winning Michigan but to retaining the White House and the Senate and taking back the House of Representatives—not just because of this community’s votes, but because of the signal such actions will send to people of color, young people, and progressives in Michigan and across the country. That’s why I am urging President Biden and other Democrats to pay attention to these key supporters instead of just relying on our opponents to be worse.

Michigan’s primary offered a preview of the future Democratic coalition. Democrats need to embrace this diverse, multiracial, and progressive coalition that represents the future of our party and our nation. This coalition, energized by young people and voters of color, including a meaningful Arab American electorate, demands a foreign policy that reflects our shared values of justice, peace, and human dignity.

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Rep. Ro Khanna

Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) passed the first War Powers Resolution through Congress. He is a deputy whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

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