Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden

Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden
(L-R) Abbas Alawieh, spokesperson for Listen to Michigan, Layla Elabed, campaign manager for Listen to Michigan, and Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud speak to the press one day after the Michigan presidential primary, at Haraz Coffee House in Dearborn, Michigan. (AFP)
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Updated 28 February 2024
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Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden

Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden
  • More than 100,000 voters heed call to snub president by choosing ‘uncommitted’ option on ballot, amid anger about his unflinching support for Israel during war in Gaza
  • This could prove significant during the presidential election in November, in which Michigan is likely to be one of the most closely contested states

CHICAGO: Arab American leaders hailed as a “victory” the results of a Democratic presidential primary election in Michigan on Tuesday, in which more than 100,000 voters snubbed President Joe Biden’s nomination bid by choosing the “uncommitted” option on the ballot.

Campaigners had urged Arab voters to do this in protest against the Biden administration’s unwavering support for Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip, despite the thousands of civilians who have been killed or injured as a result.

Primaries are elections held by the Democratic and Republican parties in every state to select their candidates for the presidential election. The “uncommitted” voting option is only offered by some states. Campaigners said the number of Arab Americans in Michigan who voted “uncommitted” represented a solid rejection of Biden’s candidacy.

He still comfortably won the primary. With more than 95 percent of the votes counted on Wednesday afternoon, he had received 618,441, representing 81.1 percent of the total. The number of “uncommitted” votes stood at 101,107, or 13.3 percent. Two other candidates, Marianne Williamson and Dean Phillips, each received about 3 percent of the vote.

The “uncommitted” vote could nevertheless prove significant in the presidential election if it translates into loss of support for Biden or a switch of allegiance to his likely rival, Donald Trump. Biden claimed victory in Michigan at the 2020 presidential election by the relatively narrow margin of 154,188 votes out of more than 5.5 million cast. There are more than 500,000 Arab and Muslim voters in Michigan. In addition, turnout for a presidential election is usually significantly higher than for a primary; about 1.8 million people voted in the Michigan primary on Tuesday, for example, compared with the 5.5 million at the 2020 presidential election.

In Michigan’s Republican primary, Trump comfortably won with 68.2 percent of the vote. Closest rival Nikki Haley received just 26.6 percent, which 3 percent were uncommitted.

The Michigan primary was the first among several identified by Arab American campaign groups as taking place in key swing states where Biden’s victory over Trump in 2020 was particularly narrow.

Arab Americans have launched anti-Biden protest movements in several of those states, the most prominent of which has been #AbandonBiden. Its leaders cite as the main reason for Arab anger the president’s support for and defense of Israel during the war in Gaza, including: the allocation of more than $34 billion in aid and weapons; what they view as the pro-Israel bias of Secretary of State Antony Blinken; and the US decisions to veto three UN Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire.

The #AbandonBiden campaign launched on Nov. 1, shortly after Israel invaded Gaza in response to the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7. It criticized Israel for the “brutality” of its military campaign, which has razed cities to the ground, destroying civilian buildings and infrastructure in the process, including mosques, hospitals, churches, schools, homes and businesses. Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the territory in the past four months.

Osama Siblani, publisher of the Michigan-based Arab American News, which describes itself as the largest Arab American publication in the US, told Arab News that “empty words” from the Biden administration seeking to placate Arab voters will not work.

“The message has been delivered to Biden loud and clear from Michigan’s Arab Americans: Defeat is waiting for you in November,” he said. “This is only a down payment.”

Imad Hamad, the executive director of the American Human Rights Council, told Arab News: “The community delivered and fulfilled its solid commitment not to commit to the reelection of President Biden.

“The uncommitted votes, as well as the votes of those who flipped the party affiliation from the Democratic Party to Republican speaks for itself, setting the record straight moving forward toward the general elections in November.”

The possibility that the #AbandonBiden campaign might help return Trump to the White House has caused alarm among many traditional Democrat supporters.

Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and a longtime political activist, said many movements have emerged in response to discontent over Biden’s policies on Israel and Gaza.

“We hoped to send a message that couldn’t be ignored by President Biden and we did just that,” he told Arab News.

“The turnout in the Arab community was great and with the support of our allies we topped over 100,000 votes. This is a huge win.”

Samir Khalil, founder of the Arab American Democratic Club in Illinois, where Biden could face another Arab voter backlash in that state’s primary on March 19, said that the president’s abandonment of Palestinians was “unconscionable and unacceptable.”

He told Arab News: “Four years of Donald Trump doesn’t even come close to comparing to four months of Israel’s killings in the Gaza Strip.

“Over 100,000 people voted for ‘uncommitted’ in the Michigan presidential primary yesterday. This record-breaking total for the uncommitted option sent a loud and clear message to the Democratic Party and the Biden campaign: It is time to take action to end the genocide in Gaza.

Abed Ayoub, president of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee echoed these comments and said: “Uncommitted voters represent diverse demographics, including young voters, progressive voters, and a significant number of voters from ally communities.”

In a message posted on social media platform X, Abdullah Hammoud, the mayor of the Michigan city of Dearborn wrote: “I am overwhelmed by the power of the people, demonstrated today by the number of Michiganders who voted ‘uncommitted’ … Every person who voted ‘uncommitted’ today was personally compelled to use their voice to speak out against President Biden’s support of (Israeli President) Benjamin Netanyahu’s ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Biden has faced harsh criticism from other groups, including the Council on American Islamic Relations; Our Revolution, founded by progressive Democratic US Senator Bernie Sanders; and Listen to Michigan.

Hassan Abdel Salam, the national coordinator of #AbandonBiden, and the group’s Michigan coordinator, Khalid Turani, released a statement on Wednesday in which they said: “Abandon Biden leaders stand before the nation today, not just as victors in the Michigan primary, but as bearers of a profound and indignant message against President Joe Biden’s oversight of the ongoing US-Israeli genocide in Gaza. This isn’t just a political setback for Biden; it’s a damning indictment of his presidency’s moral bankruptcy.

“Our motivation is driven by the harrowing realities of Gaza, where the statistics of death and despair climb daily under the shadow of a genocide facilitated by Biden’s administration. At least 29,606 innocent men, women and children have been murdered, including more than 12,300 children and 8,400 women; and more than 69,737 wounded, including at least 8,663 children and 6,327 women.

“These aren’t just numbers; they’re a damning testament to the horror and suffering supported by Biden’s foreign policy.”

They added: “As we move from Michigan to the national stage, our message remains unequivocal: We will accept nothing less than justice, accountability and an end to US funding, arming and support of the genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Biden faced no significant challengers in the Michigan primary, so voting “uncommitted” was the best and clearest way to express the outrage and anger of the Arab American community, campaigners said.

To become president, a candidate must win at least 270 of the 538 Electoral College votes up for grabs. Each of the 50 states receives a set number of Electoral College votes based on population size, and they are normally awarded to the candidate that wins the popular vote in the state.

In 2020, Biden won 306 Electoral College votes compared with Trump’s 232. If Arab Americans votes prevent Biden from winning 36 of these votes in three key swing states at the presidential election in November, he could lose, #AbandonBiden leaders said. Michigan has 16 Electoral College votes up for grabs.

Biden is particularly vulnerable in several swing states where his 2020 margins of victory over Trump were even closer than in Michigan. They include: Arizona, which has 11 Electoral College votes and in which he won the popular vote by a narrow margin of 10,457; Wisconsin (10 College votes; 2020 victory margin: 20,682); Georgia (16 College votes; 2020 victory margin: 11,779); and Nevada (6 College votes; 2020 victory margin: 33,596).


Google fires at least 20 more workers who protested its $1.2bn contract with Israel

Google fires at least 20 more workers who protested its $1.2bn contract with Israel
Updated 59 min 54 sec ago
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Google fires at least 20 more workers who protested its $1.2bn contract with Israel

Google fires at least 20 more workers who protested its $1.2bn contract with Israel

NEW YORK: Google fired at least 20 more workers in the aftermath of protests over technology the company is supplying the Israeli government amid the Gaza war, bringing the total number of terminated staff to more than 50, a group representing the workers said.

It’s the latest sign of internal turmoil at the tech giant centered on “Project Nimbus,” a $1.2 billion contract signed in 2021 for Google and Amazon to provide the Israeli government with cloud computing and artificial intelligence services.

Workers held sit-in protests last week at Google offices in New York and Sunnyvale, California. The company responded by calling the police, who made arrests.

The group organizing the protests, No Tech For Apartheid, said the company fired 30 workers last week — higher than the initial 28 they had announced.

Then, on Tuesday night, Google fired “over 20” more staffers, “including non-participating bystanders during last week’s protests,” said Jane Chung, a spokeswoman for No Tech For Apartheid, without providing a more specific number.

“Google’s aims are clear: the corporation is attempting to quash dissent, silence its workers, and reassert its power over them,” Chung said in a press release. “In its attempts to do so, Google has decided to unceremoniously, and without due process, upend the livelihoods of over 50 of its own workers.”

Google said it fired the additional workers after its investigation gathered details from coworkers who were “physically disrupted” and it identified employees who used masks and didn’t carry their staff badges to hide their identities. It didn’t specify how many were fired.

The company disputed the group’s claims, saying that it carefully confirmed that “every single one of those whose employment was terminated was personally and definitively involved in disruptive activity inside our buildings.”

The Mountain View, California, company had previously signaled that more people could be fired, with CEO Sundar Pichai indicati ng in a blog post that employees would be on a short leash as the company intensifies its efforts to improve its AI technology.


Britain’s home secretary touts UK-Rwanda migrant deportation deal during visit to Italy

Britain’s home secretary touts UK-Rwanda migrant deportation deal during visit to Italy
Updated 23 April 2024
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Britain’s home secretary touts UK-Rwanda migrant deportation deal during visit to Italy

Britain’s home secretary touts UK-Rwanda migrant deportation deal during visit to Italy
  • Deal, in which Britain will pay Rwanda to process the migrants, is aimed at deterring people from crossing the English Channel from France
  • It is similar in some basic aspects to Italy’s controversial pact to outsource the processing of asylum-seekers to Italian-run centers in Albania

ROME: Britain’s home secretary on Tuesday touted Britain’s migrant deportation deal with Rwanda as a “new and creative” deterrent to an old and growing problem. But he said he took seriously criticism by the UN refugee agency that it violates international law.
Home Secretary James Cleverly visited Italy, ground zero in Europe’s migration debate, hours after the UK Parliament approved legislation to enable the government to deport some people to Rwanda who enter Britain illegally.
The deal, in which Britain will pay Rwanda to process the migrants, is aimed at deterring people from crossing the English Channel from France. It is similar in some basic aspects to Italy’s controversial pact to outsource the processing of asylum-seekers to Italian-run centers in Albania.
Human rights groups have said both deals, forged by conservative governments amid anti-migrant sentiment among voters, violate the rights of migrants that are enshrined in international refugee conventions.
On Tuesday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the UK-Rwanda deal is “not compatible with international refugee law” because it uses an asylum model “that undermines global solidarity and the established international refugee protection system.”
Cleverly defended the deal as a necessary response to a problem that has outgrown the international institutional way of processing migrants. He said Britain will not tolerate people smugglers determining who arrives on British soil.
“People-smuggling mass migration has changed (and) I think demands us to be constantly innovating,” he told a gathering at the Institute of International Affairs, a Rome-based think tank.
He said he took seriously the UNCHR criticism and said Britain was a law-abiding country.
“Of course we will respect the UN enormously,” he said when asked about the UNHCR criticism. “We take it very, very seriously. Doesn’t mean to say we always agree with their assessment. But we will, of course, look at that.”
Cleverly visited the Italian coast guard headquarters on Tuesday and on Wednesday is to visit the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, where tens of thousands of migrants have arrived after crossing the Mediterranean Sea on boats setting off from northern Africa.
Lampedusa is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland and is often the destination of choice for migrants, whose numbers reached 157,652 new arrivals in Italy last year.
The numbers arriving in Italy so far this year are actually way down, presumably thanks to Italy’s European Union-endorsed agreement with Tunisia to stem departures. As of Tuesday, 16,090 migrants had arrived by sea in Italy so far this year, compared to 36,324 in this period last year.
Spain has actually outpaced Italy so far this year in terms of migrant sea arrivals, with 16,621 arriving this year as of April 15, the last available date.
In Britain, the numbers pale in comparison to the southern Mediterranean, even during peak periods: In 2022, the number of people arriving in Britain from across the Channel reached 45,774, though last year the number dropped to 29,437.


Ukraine suspends consular services abroad for men of fighting age

Ukraine suspends consular services abroad for men of fighting age
Updated 23 April 2024
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Ukraine suspends consular services abroad for men of fighting age

Ukraine suspends consular services abroad for men of fighting age
  • Ukraine’s foreign affairs ministry “announced a temporary suspension of accepting new applications for consular services” for men between 18 and 60
  • It made an exception for documents allowing Ukrainians to return to Ukraine

KYIV: Ukraine authorities on Tuesday suspended consular services for men of fighting age living abroad, after announcing measures to bring them home amid manpower shortages in the army fighting Russia.
Ukraine’s army has been struggling to hold frontlines, partly due to a lack of soldiers over two years into Russia’s invasion.
Ukraine’s foreign affairs ministry “announced a temporary suspension of accepting new applications for consular services” for men between 18 and 60.
It made an exception for documents allowing Ukrainians to return to Ukraine.
The move would likely oblige Ukrainian men to return from abroad to undergo administrative procedures that were previously available abroad.
The government has already adopted a mobilization law, due to come into force on May 18, that toughens penalties against draft dodgers and obliges men to keep their military registration up-to-date.
The ministry said men would be able to access consular services once the law came into force and “after updating their military registration.”
“Male citizen of Ukraine aged 18 to 60 with valid military registration documents will have full access to consular services,” the ministry said.
Ukrainian men have been forbidden to leave the country since the invasion began, apart from a few exceptions.
But some lived away before the war began, and Ukrainian media estimates that thousands more illegally fled the country.


Major arrests at NYU campus as Gaza protests spread

New York University students set up a
New York University students set up a "Liberated Zone" tent encampment in Gould Plaza at NYU Stern School of Business.
Updated 23 April 2024
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Major arrests at NYU campus as Gaza protests spread

New York University students set up a "Liberated Zone" tent encampment in Gould Plaza at NYU Stern School of Business.
  • Some of America’s most prestigious universities have been rocked by protests in recent weeks
  • On Tuesday, the New York Police Department said 133 people had been arrested at NYU and released after being issued with court summons

NEW YORK: More than 130 people were arrested overnight during pro-Palestinian protests at the New York University campus, as student demonstrations gather pace in the United States over the Israel-Hamas war.
Some of America’s most prestigious universities have been rocked by protests in recent weeks as students and other agitators take over quads and disrupt campus activities.
The demonstrations come amid sweeping debates over Israel’s assault on Gaza, following Hamas’s deadly invasion on October 7.
Such bastions of higher education — Harvard, Yale, Columbia and others — are grappling for a balance between students demanding free speech rights and others who argue that campuses are encouraging intimidation and hate speech.
On Tuesday, the New York Police Department told AFP that 133 people had been arrested at NYU and released after being issued with court summons, as protests also intensify at Yale, Columbia University and other campuses.
As the holiday of Passover began Monday night, police began detaining demonstrators at an encampment at NYU who had earlier refused orders to disperse.
A New York University spokesman said the decision to call police came after additional protesters, many of whom were not thought to be affiliated with NYU, suddenly breached the barriers erected around the encampment.
This “dramatically changed” the situation, the spokesman said in a statement on the school’s website Monday, citing “disorderly, disruptive and antagonizing behavior” along with “intimidated chants and several antisemitic incidents.”
“Given the foregoing and the safety issues raised by the breach, we asked for assistance from the NYPD. The police urged those on the plaza to leave peacefully, but ultimately made a number of arrests.”
The spokesman said the school continues to support freedom of expression and the safety of students.
But protests have grown large and disruptive enough — New York Police Department spokesmen have spoken of their officers facing violence when confronting protesters at NYU — to draw the attention of President Joe Biden and his administration.
“Anti-Semitic hate on college campuses is unacceptable,” US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona posted on X on Tuesday, expressing concern about the unrest.
The protests began last week at Columbia University, also in New York, with a large group of demonstrators establishing a so-called “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” on school grounds.
But more than 100 protesters were arrested after university authorities called the police onto Columbia’s campus Thursday, a move that seemingly escalated tensions and sparked a greater turnout over the weekend.
Social media images late Monday appeared to show pro-Palestinian Jewish students holding traditional seder meals inside the protest areas on campuses including at Columbia.
There were also demonstrations at MIT, the University of Michigan, UC Berkeley and Yale, where at least 47 people were arrested Monday after refusing requests to disperse.


France arrests eight in PKK financing probe

France arrests eight in PKK financing probe
Updated 23 April 2024
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France arrests eight in PKK financing probe

France arrests eight in PKK financing probe
  • The arrests took place in the Paris region and in southern France, the PNAT anti-terror unit said
  • French prosecutors suspect the eight of preparing and financing terrorist acts

PARIS: French police arrested eight men on Tuesday as part of an investigation into the finances of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), banned as a terror organization by Turkiye and its Western allies, anti-terrorism prosecutors told AFP.
The arrests took place in the Paris region and in southern France, the PNAT anti-terror unit said.
The PKK has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkiye, the United States and the European Union.
French prosecutors suspect the eight of preparing and financing terrorist acts, and of conspiring to extort, or attempt to extort, funds to finance a terrorist organistion between 2020 and 2024, the PNAT said.
Investigators believe the eight to be connected to a campaign to collect funds from Kurdish business people and other Kurds in France, a source close to the case added.
Police can hold the suspects for up to 96 hours for questioning, the source said.
Another source said the funds were destined for use in Belgium, where police on Monday raided Kurdish-run media as part of a probe undertaken at the request of a French anti-terror judge, the PNAT said.
The PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency for greater autonomy for the Kurdish minority of Turkiye in the southeast of the country, in a standoff with the Ankara government that remains unresolved to this day.