Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Andy Levin Push For a Vote of "Uncommitted" in Michigan Primary to Protest Biden and Israeli War

February 19, 2024, 3:59 PM by  Allan Lengel

President Biden, ex-Rep. Andy Levin and Rep. Rashida Tlaib

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib and former Congressman Andy Levin, who have been vocal critics of the ongoing war in Gaza, are pushing for Michiganaders to vote "uncommitted," rather than for President Joe Biden, in the Feb. 27 presidential primary to protest his stance in the Middle East conflict. 

Appearing on MSNBC over the weekend, Levin, who lost his 2022 bid for re-election, at least in part, because of his vocal criticism of Israel's policies, defended Tlaib who has been the target of criticism by TV pundits who worry her movement against Biden in the primary will help Trump regain the White House.

Tlaib, a Detroit native who is of Palestinian descent, has urged people to vote "uncommitted" to show their disapproval. Some have also accused her of not representing the feelings of her constituents in the matter. 

"Frankly I don't care what a bunch of talking headed pundits say on MSNBC," said Levin, who is Jewish. "We're here on the ground in Michigan and they are dead wrong. Representative Talib is representing her constituents."

"Joe Biden has done a good job on a lot of it, but we need him to change course on this. We can't stand 28,000 people being killed, women and children being killed at the fastest rate of any conflict since World War II."

He urged people to vote "uncommitted" to show the president they're mad.

"Let's send a message to the president that if you change course, which you must do for justice, then I think the people will return to him."

The Jewish Telegraph Agency, a Jewish news service, wrote last week that about two dozen progressive Jewish activists tuned into the “MI Jews Uncommitted Phone Bank," ready to ask their networks not to vote for Biden. The campaign includes Arab Americans upset about the war. Many Arab Americans in Metro Detroit say they can't vote for Biden because of what they see as his unbridled support for the Israeli war effort in Gaza. 

“As Michigan Jews, we are important messengers in a multiracial and multi-faith, anti-war coalition telling President Biden that we are uncommitted to his administration’s funding of genocidal war in Gaza,” a mission statement reads according to the JTA. 

“I think that there is an assumption from the Biden administration, as well as many others in power, that they can count on Jewish support and the Jewish vote as things carry on in this way in Gaza,” Eleanor Gamalski, a local Jewish organizer who headed up the phone bank, tells the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Many Jews that I know would object to that.” She is a former Levin staffer and currently deputy director of Detroit Jews for Justice, a social justice nonprofit.

Conversely, there are large groups of Jews in Metro Detroit who suppport Israel and Biden. While some have repeatedly expressed concerns about the high death rate in the Gaza, and the humanitarian crisis, they also have concerns about the Oct. 7 attack, Israel's security and the hostages being held by Hamas. They also believe a Donald Trump presidency would be far worse for the Middle East and Arab Americans.

Mark Jacobs, a community activist for Jewish causes, and a strong supporter of Israel, tells Deadline Detroit:

"This is a critical time. Anything that takes votes away from Biden just greatly enhances the chances of a Trump presidency, which I think is rather unthinkable."

"It's laughable that Trump stands for principles that are in the best interest of the people of Michigan. His only principle, as I see it, is Trump. "

Democrats fear that if enough  Arab Americans refuse to vote for Biden, a victory in Michigan could go to Trump in November. 

Reps. Haley Stevens and Andy Levin

The Israel-Palestinian conflict has long been a hot-button issue for segments of America, particularly in Metro Detroit, which is host to large Arab and Muslim and Jewish populations.

A coaltion of Israel supporters poured money in 2022 into Levin's Congressional race in support of  Rep. Haley Stevens, who is not Jewish, but voiced more traditional U.S. support for Israel. Levin, while supportive of Israel, was critical of its policies in the territories, and referred to it as an apartheid state.

That upset many in the Jewish community and wealthy Jewish donors turned to Haley, who overwhelmingly defeated Levin, the son of retired U.S. Rep. Sander Levin.

Early voting is underway in Michigan. 

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