‘Uncommitted’ campaign protesting Biden’s Israel support nets 100,000+ votes in Michigan primary
A Democratic voter uncommitted to President Joe Biden rallies outside a polling location at Oakman Elementary School
in Dearborn, Michigan, Feb. 27, 2024. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

By Ron Kampeas
February 28, 2024

(JTA) — A campaign to protest President Joe Biden’s support of Israel by voting “Uncommitted” in the Michigan Democratic presidential primary declared victory on Tuesday night, as returns showed the movement garnering more than 10% of the vote.

Biden still won the primary overwhelmingly. But the Uncommitted movement, also called Listen to Michigan, had set a goal of drawing 10,000 votes — the margin by which Donald Trump won the state in the 2016 presidential election. By early Wednesday, with most votes counted, more than 100,000 people had voted Uncommitted.

“Our movement emerged victorious tonight and massively surpassed our expectations,” Listen to Michigan said in a statement as votes were still being counted. “Tens of thousands of Michigan Democrats, many of whom who voted for Biden in 2020, are uncommitted to his re-election due to the war in Gaza.”

The campaign generated support from some local Jews but was initiated by activists from Michigan’s large Arab-American population, which numbers more than 300,000. Since the early days of the Israel-Hamas war, Arab and Muslim Americans have warned that Biden’s staunch support of Israel could cost their votes in November. Layla Elabed, the lead organizer of the campaign and sister of Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, said Tuesday’s result shows that the protest movement has reached a critical mass.

“Today’s results and our delegation represent a historic inflection point for creating a Democratic Party that aligns with the majority of its voters who want a ceasefire and end to unrestricted weapons funding for Israel’s war and occupation against the Palestinian people,” Elabed said in a statement.

“We don’t want a Trump presidency, but Biden has put [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu ahead of American democracy,” she added. “We cannot afford to pay the bill for disregarding Palestinian lives should it come due in November.”

Jewish backers of the campaign include Andy Levin, the former congressman who is a scion of a leading Michigan Jewish political family and who was defeated in 2022 by a candidate who had the backing of the centrist and right wing pro-Israel community.

“We have a huge victory tonight,” he said at Uncommitted headquarters in Dearborn, the Detroit suburb that is the center of the state’s Arab-American community. “This is a victory of American democracy.”

Critics of Listen to Michigan say it may end up playing into the hands of former President Donald Trump, who won the Michigan Republican primary handily and is almost certain to face Biden in a rematch in the general election. Biden won the state by about 150,000 votes in 2020 but is trailing Trump in polls this year.

“Those who voted ‘uncommitted’ in this Michigan primary did so knowing that President Biden would easily win,” Halie Soifer, the CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America and a Michigander, said a statement. “That will not necessarily be the case the next time he’s on the ballot, when any vote for a third-party candidate, protest position or non-vote is effectively a vote for Donald Trump.”

Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 invasion of Israel, which launched the war, Biden has supported the war effort and rejected calls to force Israel into a permanent ceasefire. But he has been more open in recent weeks about his unhappiness with Netanyahu, criticizing him for not being more precise in Israel’s counterstrikes and for obstructing the entry of humanitarian aid. The White House is also pushing for a temporary humanitarian ceasefire.

About 1,200 Israelis were killed on Oct. 7, and more than 200 of its soldiers have since been killed in the war. Close to 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza. Israel says that at least of the third of the dead are combatants.

Listen to Michigan claims the war amounts to a genocide against the Palestinians, a charge common among pro-Palestinian activists that Israel and its allies roundly reject, blaming Hamas for firing from civilian areas.

Opponents of the campaign and observers acknowledged before results were in that the Uncommitted movement would have a strong showing. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Biden ally, said on MSNBC on Tuesday that she expected the Uncommitted vote to be “sizable” and added, “There’s a lot of people who are hurting.” The Biden campaign has sent senior proxies to the state to meet with leaders of its Arab-American community.

Democratic Majority for Israel, a pro-Israel advocacy group, noted in a statement ahead of the vote that almost 20,000 people voted Uncommitted in 2020, when the war in Gaza wasn’t an issue. But that year, the Uncommitted vote amounted to just over 1%, a far smaller proportion than in 2024.

In two counties — Wayne, home to a major Arab-American community in Dearborn, and Washtenaw, home to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor — Uncommitted this year netted 17% of the vote.

Uncommitted wasn’t Biden’s only challenger on the ballot. U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, a Jewish Minnesota Democrat who is running a long-shot campaign against Biden, garnered less than 3% of the vote, just behind Marianne Williamson, a Jewish new age guru who has moved into politics in recent years.

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