Posted on April 22, 2024

Biden’s Handling of Gaza Shakes His Support in the Black Community

Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Washington Post, April 17, 2024

The symbolic mix of soul food and Palestinian dishes had been eaten to conclude the Ramadan fast, and remarks from Palestinian Americans about the war in Gaza had just wrapped up at the Masjidullah community center when Suad Islam stepped to a microphone seeking some political advice.

“This presidential election is very disappointing. Is there a candidate that you would suggest that we vote for? Because I don’t know any Muslim that could vote for Biden,” said Islam, who is Black and a lifelong Philadelphia resident. “Who should we vote for? I’m just very disappointed.”

Islam, who has lived in Philadelphia since the 1970s, has voted in every election since she was 18, almost always for Democrats. She picked President Biden over former president Donald Trump in 2020, and even volunteered at a polling place. But she said she cannot fathom punching a ballot for Biden again, not with more than 33,000 dead in Gaza, many of them fellow Muslims.


As the Gaza war enters its seventh month, some Black Americans say Biden’s handling of the conflict makes them question whether he deserves a second term, according to interviews with nearly two dozen voters, opinion leaders and activists working through a political and moral conundrum in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

For some, the conflagration 6,000 miles away has already changed their vote, edging out domestic concerns such as the economy, inflation and crime. Others say the war in the Middle East, which has already cost thousands of lives and has a region on the brink of famine, mirrors other tragedies afflicting people of color — and that Biden’s support for what they see as a moral disaster should have consequences at the ballot box.

Still others see the biggest threat as something else entirely: another Trump presidency.

Where these voters ultimately land could play an outsize role in who occupies the White House next year. Pennsylvania is one of a handful of battleground states that both Republicans and Democrats see as pivotal to winning the presidency. In 2020, Biden won the state by just over 80,000 votes, including a 4-to-1 margin in heavily Black Philadelphia. But there are signs that the coalition that elected him is fragmenting.


But as the Gaza war has raged on, Biden and other Democrats have faced protesters at virtually all of their public events, over the Palestinian death toll. In Scranton on Tuesday, after Biden gave a campaign speech on tax policy, the president’s motorcade was met by protesters chanting, “Biden Biden, you can’t hide. We charge you with genocide,” and “Welcome home, Scranton Joe — make sure Gazans have a home also.” Demonstrators also shouted at Biden as he visited his childhood home.

In several states, Muslims and Arab Americans have organized movements urging members of their communities — as well as people of color, liberals and others dissatisfied with Biden’s support of Israel — to choose “uncommitted” in Democratic primaries, an effort that notched more than 100,000 votes in Michigan.

For seven months, organizers in Philadelphia have been stoking a similar movement in advance of Pennsylvania’s April 23 Democratic primary. They contend that Israel’s military onslaught resembles other racist oppression that called for a global moral response: Jim Crow in the American South, or apartheid in South Africa.

That sentiment has resulted in a growing link between Black and Arab American activists.

Black Americans “have been struggling through this for many, many years,” said Osama Al-Qasem, who directs the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “They understand what we’re going through, and therefore they empathize and sympathize and support our struggle, as well. So the built-in relationship becomes a hub we leverage.”

Biden has made racial justice a central tenet of his administration, and as his reelection campaign intensifies he has highlighted the strides Black Americans have made during his presidency. Putting Trump back in the White House, he and his surrogates argue, would stymie that progress.

Biden has stressed that he needs Black voters to help put him in the White House again. but recent polls have shown declining support among the demographic, particularly in battleground states that will probably swing the election.

Some 92 percent of Black voters picked Biden over Trump in 2020. A Wall Street Journal poll of swing states, however, found that 57 percent of Black men planned to vote for Biden in the 2024 election, while 30 percent said they were likely to vote for Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee.

Similarly, 11 percent of Black women in the 2020 poll said they would “definitely” or “probably” vote for Trump, compared to 6 percent of Black women who voted for him in 2020.


Others are disenchanted with the notion that they must choose between two parties whose policies toward Israel may not be substantively different.

“I think there’s a recognition that neither the Democrats nor Republicans are really representing our interests. They’re not representing Black interests. They’re not representing the interests of poor and working-class folks,” said Melina Abdullah, who recently became the running mate of third-party presidential candidate Cornel West.

In 2015, she and other founding members of Black Lives Matter issued a statement of solidarity with Palestinians. “We don’t have to take a lesser-of-two-evils approach,” Abdullah said. “Lesser of two evils is still evil.”

In contrast, Rahima Abdullah, 67, a lifelong Philadelphia resident, said the events of the past six months have not deterred her desire to vote for Biden. Voting “uncommitted” or staying home “is a vote for Trump,” she added.