Arab Americans rally behind 'Amo Bernie' ahead of Michigan primary

Arab Americans rally behind 'Amo Bernie' ahead of Michigan primary
Michigan’s Arab American community laid on a traditional dabke dance for Bernie Sanders at his rally in Dearborn ahead of the primary vote on 10 March.
4 min read
08 March, 2020
Dabke dancers hype up the crowd before Bernie Sanders’ speech in Dearborn, Michigan [Getty]
US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders received a warm welcome from the residents of Dearborn, the home of the highest concentration of Arabs in America, on Saturday, at a rally ahead of Michigan’s primary vote.

Sanders, who is referred to as Amo (uncle) Bernie among Arab Americans, addressed around 900 people in a school gym in the Detroit suburb, during which traditional Arab dabke dancers and musicians hyped up the crowd before the Vermont senator’s half-hour speech.

The veteran socialist, who is now in a two-horse race with Joe Biden to become Democratic presidential nominee, was introduced by Palestinian-American comedian Amer Zaher, who condemned the appearance of a Nazi flag at Sanders’ rally in Philadelphia on Thursday, adding that Dearborn welcomes Sanders with open arms.

In-depth: 'He's one of us': How 'Amo' Bernie Sanders won the hearts and minds of Arab-Americans

"People say, why are all these Arabs supporting the Jewish guy to be president? But they don't understand anything about us, Bernie does. We love everyone ... The motto of this campaign is not me, us," Zahr said. 

"Dearborn has been the home of new immigrants for over a century. It is where hope starts. We stand here at the crossroads of the fights for legal, racial and environmental justice. Four years ago, they told us he was done... as it turns out, Arab Americans had something to say about that."

Sanders said he was inspired by so many Arab Americans backing him. “I see people coming together from so many different backgrounds. It is beautiful,” he said. 

His speech focused on his flagship policies of medicare for all and free education, as well as the issues of ending all types of discrimination and safe drinking water, which has plagued the state.

"Every person in this room, it doesn't matter if you're Christian, Muslim, Jewish, whatever you may be, you have the same dreams and aspirations," he said. "Last I heard, everyone needs health care as a human right. Last I heard, everyone wants their kids to get a quality education. Last I heard everyone who turns on the water faucet wants to make sure it's clean, not toxic. ... It's unbelievable.”

"Is it possible that people in this area don't have water coming out of their tap? This is absolutely insane and we're going to do everything we can to stop water pollution in Michigan and all over this country," he added.

High profile Arab and Muslim Americans have been endorsing the leftist candidate, not only for his socialist domestic agenda but also for his foreign policy that promises to fight for the rights of Palestinians.

Michigan is the biggest prize of the March 10 primary states, which include Washington, Missouri, Mississippi, Idaho and North Dakota.

Top advisers expect Sanders to finish strong in Washington. However, he cancelled a trip to Mississippi to focus on Michigan. He made a stop in Chicago's Grant Park on Saturday afternoon, and declared that he has a different vision than Biden, “And the American people are going to hear about it.” 

Sanders will spend the rest of the weekend in Michigan, while Biden is in Missouri and Mississippi.

Comment: It's not just Bernie: Pro-Israel lobby AIPAC may have lost the US Democrats for good

Sanders said repeatedly that he and Biden are friends and that, if he's not the nominee, he will support Biden against Trump. But, he added: “In the remaining months, I intend to make it clear what my views are and what Joe Biden’s are.”

Sanders has used many of his Michigan events to hammer Biden's past support for the North American Free Trade Agreement, arguing that it moved high-paying US jobs to Mexico and China while devastating manufacturing in a state dominated by the auto industry.

Sanders has focused on Biden's years in the Senate, when Biden backed not only trade agreements and the US-led war in Iraq, but also a ban on using federal funds to pay for abortions. Biden announced this summer that he was reversing his position on that, but Sanders said that wasn't enough.

"I think we need a candidate that can be trusted on this issue. I am proud to tell you that I am 100% pro choice,” Sanders said Friday night in a rally to 6,000 people in Detroit.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to stay connected