Biden's 'partnership plan' receives mixed response from Arab-Americans

Biden's 'partnership plan' receives mixed response from Arab-Americans
Biden's plan touches issues from the Muslim ban, no-fly lists, refugee resettlement, census representation, to foreign policy pledges including reviving ties with Palestinian leaders and supporting Beirut's reconstruction
5 min read
30 August, 2020
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris speak at a rally on 12 August [Getty]
The US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Saturday released a policy plan directed at Arab-Americans that encompasses a wide range of domestic and foreign policy pledges in order to win the community's support.

The plan had a strong focus on civil and human rights, promising to combat discrimination and restore the country's values as "a nation of immigrants".

"Anti-Arab bigotry has been used in attempts to exclude, silence, and marginalise an entire community, and Biden believes it must be rejected whenever it surfaces," the plan read, adding that Arab-Americans would be included across a future Biden administration.

'Historic' agenda

Biden's extensive range of domestic policy proposals received high praise from Arab-Americans, many of whom were staunch supporters of Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary race.

The first pledge included the immediate rescindment of the so-called Muslim ban and the "immoral" family separation policy, as well as increasing the annual intake of refugees to 125,000.

"Biden will reestablish the United States as a welcoming destination for those seeking to pursue the American dream, including immigrants from the Arab world," it said. "Prohibiting the populations of entire countries from coming to the United States is morally wrong, does not make our nation more secure, and is yet another abuse of power by the Trump Administration."

A key emphasis of Biden's plan included combatting discrimination experienced by Arab-Americans in relation to policing, surveillance and counter-terrorism programmes.

"A Biden-Harris administration will confront discriminatory policies that single out Arab Americans and cast entire communities under suspicion," it said.

It promised to end the Trump administration's current counter violent extremism (CVE) programme and hold extensive consultations with Arab-American leaders before designing a new programme to ensure it wouldn't infringe on civil rights.

The plan also said Biden's administration would review “watchlist” and “no-fly list” procedures and remove names from them where necessary. Arab-Americans have long complained these processes discriminate against those with Middle Eastern or Muslims backgrounds.

It also pledged to protect the community from the rising threat of far-right violence and prioritise prosecution and thorough documentation of hate crimes.

Touching on another key long-running demand of the Arab-American community, Biden said he would implement a Middle East North Africa (MENA) category on the US census, in order for the community to be more accurately counted and represented.

Another key pledge included protecting the right to free speech, including criticism of Israel.

"Joe Biden will protect the constitutional right of our citizens to free speech. He also does not support efforts by any democracy to criminalize free speech and expression, which is why he spoke out against Israel’s decision to deny entry to American lawmakers because they favour boycotting Israel," the plan read.

It did, however, emphasise Biden's strong opposition to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

James Zogby, the director of the Arab American Institute and former Bernie Sanders surrogate, praised Biden's pledges.

"A historic 1st: Biden’s agenda for #ArabAmericans: rejects excluding or silencing us; closes profiling loopholes; rejects CVE; protects our 1st amendment right to advocate for Palestinians; a strong call for freedom & democracy for Palestinians; & more," he tweeted.

'Out of touch'

Biden's foreign policy plans for the region received a more mixed response from Arab-Americans and others, despite its heavy human rights focus.

His Israel-Palestine plan came under particular criticism for being out of touch with the reality of the current situation.

As president, Biden "will work to ensure that Palestinians and Israelis enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity, and democracy," said the document, reaffirming his commitment to a two-state solution and opposition to annexation and settlement building.

Omar Shakir, Israel-Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, tweeted: "How hard is it to say equal rights? So long as Joe Biden & Kamala Harris [won't] say that Palestinians deserve same basic rights as all other [people], no-one should be under illusion that they'll change decades-long ugly status quo. They're out of touch [with] their party & reality on ground."

American-Palestinian analyst Yousef Munayyer also tweeted on Saturday: "If you are a policy maker and say you oppose Israel's human rights and international law violations but can not articulate a single way they should be held accountable for them, then you are a hypocrite that is complicit in them," seemingly in reference to Biden's plan.

Biden's other proposals for the Palestinian issue included restoring US aid to Palestinian refugees - which Trump dramatically cut in 2018 - as well as addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, reopening the US consulate in East Jerusalem and the PLO mission in Washington.

It did not mention reversing Trump's decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, which also came under criticism.

Read also: Can a Biden-Harris ticket fix America's broken Middle East policy?

In relation to the conflict in Syria, Biden's plan also came under fire for being too vague. He promised to "recommit to standing with civil society and pro-democracy partners on the ground," as well as taking a lead role in the continuing fight against IS, pursuing political solutions to the conflict and supporting the country's reconstruction. 

In regards to Lebanon, Biden pledged to work with civil society to combat corruption, continue support to the Lebanese Armed Forces, and provide "support and solutions" to the recovery efforts following Beirut's port disaster.

The document added that Biden will "review" the US relationship with Saudi Arabia and its support for the war in Yemen. It criticised the Trump administration for giving the Saudi government "a blank check to pursue a disastrous set of policies," including the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the crackdown on women activists.

Biden is currently polling ahead of rival Donald Trump ahead of the vote on 3 November.

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