US President Joe Biden travelled Thursday to the crucial swing state of Michigan, which is also the crucible of growing Arab American anger at his pro-Israel policies.
The trip came days after the Democratic incumbent’s campaign manager travelled to the city of Dearborn – home to the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States – only to be snubbed by the Detroit suburb’s mayor.
It was an ominous sign for Biden, for whom swing states such as Michigan could prove decisive in November when he faces a likely rematch with his predecessor Donald Trump.
The White House has clarified that Thursday’s trip is purely a campaign visit, and Biden’s 2024 team has said that he will meet with members of the powerful United Auto Workers (UAW) union, who endorsed him last week.
That could carry a lot of weight in Michigan, home to the US auto industry – but he will still have to contend with the anger of Arab Americans as Israel’s devastating war in Gaza grinds on.
In an unusual move, the White House did not say ahead of time which town Biden would be visiting – only that it was in the Detroit area.
Biden 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 Democrat of sacrificing civilians in Gaza, which is facing a serious humanitarian crisis, in the name of supporting Israel.
White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday that Biden was “heartbroken by the suffering of innocent Palestinians.”
Coinciding with his Michigan trip, the president on Thursday imposed sanctions on Israeli settlers in the West Bank accused of attacking Palestinians.
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 air, land and sea 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 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.
Biden is now regularly confronted by demonstrators waving Palestinian flags and chanting slogans against “Genocide Joe,” with his speeches interrupted by protestors.
He won decisively among Arabs and Muslims in 2020. However, analysts have warned many could stay home or vote for a third party in 2024.