US president Biden has not ‘earned my vote,’ Arab-American mayor warns

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Abdullah Hammoud’s election as the first Muslim mayor of Dearborn was a watershed moment for this city, an automaking hub home to the highest concentration of Arab-Americans in the United States.

But while his early focus was on upgrading sewer infrastructure and investing in parks, he has now been thrust into the national spotlight for his outspoken criticism of fellow Democrat Joe Biden, over the president’s support for Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.

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“I’ll be the first to say that we don’t want to see (Donald) Trump reelected to the White House,” Hammoud told AFP in an interview. “But people want to be inspired to come out.”

Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit famous as the birthplace of Henry Ford and home of the Ford Motor Company’s headquarters, has a population of around 110,000 residents, of whom 55 percent claim Middle Eastern or North African heritage.

In 2020, Dearborn voters overwhelmingly supported Biden and their ballots could tip the scales in Michigan -- a crucial swing state that may ultimately decide the White House winner in November’s election.

Hammoud’s profile surged in January after he declined an invitation to meet with Biden campaign officials seeking to shore up the Muslim vote.

Since then, he helped galvanize a movement that saw over 100,000 voters mark “uncommitted” in Michigan’s Democratic primary in protest against Biden’s policy on Israel, and was asked by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein if he would be her running mate.

Humble roots

Hammoud, who won’t meet the Constitutional requirement of being 35 until next March, was too young to accept the role, though he said the offer was “very humbling.”

Besides, he remains unsure about how he’ll cast his ballot.

“I would say that no presidential candidate has earned my vote,” said the father-of-two, urging both parties to pay attention to increasing public disapproval of Israel’s actions.

“If you look at all the polling data that’s emerging across the country, from coast to coast, the issues that we have been advocating for, fighting for... are issues that have popular support.”

These demands include a permanent ceasefire as the pathway to provide safe harbor for all hostages and prisoners, unfettered access to humanitarian aid, and ending the supply of weapons to Israel.

The son of Lebanese immigrants, Hammoud grew up in a “working poor” blue collar family. His father drove a truck while his mother’s father worked on an auto factory assembly line.

He was drawn towards the Democratic Party for its support of the labor movement, and equally repelled by Republicans, whom he says have a history of “demonizing Arab Americans, Muslim Americans and other people of color.”

Hammoud’s first dream was to become a physician, but he wasn’t able to get the grades. He instead trained as an epidemiologist and began climbing the corporate ladder as a healthcare executive.

But the sudden death of his beloved elder brother -- Hammoud was the second of five children -- made him re-evaluate his priorities, and in 2016 he won election to the state legislature.

‘What will Biden do?’

Then in 2022, he became the second in a trio of new Muslim mayors in the southeast Michigan cities of Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and Hamtramck.

Hammoud immediately set to work righting historical wrongs.

For decades, the city had been marred by a reputation for racism, exemplified by the openly segregationist policies of former mayor Orville Hubbard.

Hammoud appointed the city’s first Arab-American police chief, which led to a drastic drop in tickets issued to Black drivers within a year, according to his spokesman.

Until the war in Gaza, triggered by Hamas’s attacks and hostage taking on October 7, 2023, Hammoud considered Biden a “transformative” president, but now believes “the genocide outweighs the impact of that domestic policy.”

Hammoud sidesteps the question of whether he could ultimately endorse Biden under the right circumstances, emphasizing that whatever he might say, it’s too late for some of his constituents who have lost dozens of relatives to Israeli bombs.

He has no doubt that Trump, who imposed a Muslim travel ban during his tenure, would be an utter disaster – citing the US backing of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and shifting the US embassy to Jerusalem.

But Hammoud recoils at suggestions that members of his community would be to blame for potentially paving the way for Trump’s return by withholding their support for Biden.

Asked how he would respond to this criticism, Hammoud said: “The question should be asked of President Joe Biden -- what will he do to prevent Trump being reelected come this November? What will he do to help prevent the unraveling of American democracy and the fabric of our society?”

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