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Michigan activists launch campaign urging Democrats to vote against Biden in the primary

The "Listen to Michigan" campaign aims to pressure the Biden administration to support a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war.
Pro-Palestinian protesters carry signs read, "Abandon Joe Biden" and "Stand with Palestine."
Protesters outside the UAW National Training Center in Warren, Mich., where President Joe Biden spoke to members of the United Auto Workers last week. Jeff Kowalsky / AFP - Getty Images

DEARBORN, Mich. — Local activists gathered Tuesday morning to launch a campaign calling for Democrats to vote “uncommitted” in the state’s Feb. 27 primary to pressure President Joe Biden to support a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war.

Some organizers of the campaign, dubbed “Listen to Michigan,” said that although they voted for Biden in 2020, they cannot support his re-election campaign because of his support for Israel — and that they do not view uncommitted votes as de facto support for former President Donald Trump. 

“If that’s the case, come November, it’s between Biden and Trump — I mean, it’s essentially the Biden administration that is handing the White House over, because we’ve been abandoned by Biden,” said Listen to Michigan campaign manager Layla Elabed, a Palestinian American activist who is the sister of Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. 

Elabed added that backing a cease-fire is a prerequisite for many progressive voters to even begin considering another vote for Biden this year. 

“The bare minimum to even start talking to — to really resonate with pro-cease-fire, anti-war voters, the bare minimum just to have those discussions is to have a policy around a permanent cease-fire and a re-evaluation of military funding to Israel,” Elabed told NBC News before the event. “So it’s not that ... if those two things happen automatically, that Biden will have our support, because we’ve been burned."

Elabed and others at the event repeatedly called Israel's actions in Gaza a "genocide." The International Court of Justice is hearing a case about the accusation, which the Israeli and U.S. governments have dismissed.

"This is beyond an election," Elabed said. "This is humanitarian politics that I feel largely the Democratic Party has abandoned.”

Speaking outside the Henry Ford Centennial Library, organizer Lexis Zeidan said she believes that the Biden administration has funded the killings of thousands of Palestinians and that Biden must be held accountable.

“I want to remind everybody that in 2020, the Arab and Muslim community, myself included, sat at the same table with Joe Biden, and we campaigned hard to get him elected," Zeidan said. "In 2023, that same man that we thought represented humanity, the same man that we thought valued human life, both aided and abetted in a genocidal onslaught of the Palestinian people." 

So far, the Biden campaign has declined to comment on the Listen to Michigan campaign.

Lavora Barnes, the Michigan Democratic Party chair, praised Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in a statement and said the party needs to be "clear-eyed about the threat Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans pose to working people and the choice Michiganders will face at the ballot box this November: our reproductive freedoms, our economic opportunity, and our democracy are all on the line.”

Abbas Alawieh speaks.
Abbas Alawieh at the launch of the Listen to Michigan campaign in Dearborn on Tuesday.Jillian Frankel / NBC News

Adam Abusalah, a former Biden campaign field organizer focused on Arab American outreach in Michigan, said he no longer feels comfortable asking his own relatives to vote for Biden in 2024, as he did in 2020. 

“We thought that he would lead with humanity and compassion. We thought that he would be a better president for us than Donald Trump. But instead he has led with hypocrisy and hatred and now funding genocide," Abusalah said.

More than half of Dearborn’s residents are of Middle Eastern or North African descent, according to a Detroit Free Press analysis of 2020 census data. But Elabed said the movement’s coalition of voters includes more than just the Arab American community. 

The latest NBC News national poll found that just 29% of voters of all backgrounds approve of Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war. Among voters under age 35, the approval rating drops to 15%. 

“We’re uncommitted to what’s going on," Abusalah said. "We’re no longer just going to support him just because he has a 'D' next to his name.”