Fed up with Biden, uncommitted voters put Gaza on the ballot

US election 2024: Fed up with Biden, uncommitted voters put Gaza on the ballot
5 min read

Irfan Kovankaya

12 March, 2024
The movement's success in Michigan and beyond warns that Biden's support for Israel's war on Gaza could cost Democrats the US election, writes Irfan Kovankaya.
The uncommitted vote shows that Arab and Muslim Americans will not settle for Biden simply because Trump is worse, writes Irfan Kovankaya. [Getty]

Over the past three months, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and their allies have marched, called, emailed, demonstrated, spoken, and tweeted against Israel’s US-backed genocide in Gaza, which has killed more than 31,000 Palestinians.

So it was no surprise to anyone, except perhaps the US Democratic party establishment and pundits, when US President Joe Biden lost over 100,000 votes to the “uncommitted” movement in Michigan’s primary, refusing to vote for Biden due to his unwavering support for Israel’s war. 

Michigan is a must-win swing state for Biden in the upcoming presidential election this year. It’s a union stronghold and home to one of the largest Arab communities in the US.

Joe Biden narrowly won the state by 150,000 votes in 2020, but after a strong showing from uncommitted, which garnered over 50 percent of votes in Dearborn, the Arab capital of the US, Michigan could be Biden’s biggest barrier to a second term.

The same Arab voters who won him the state in 2020 are now pledging to stay home and mobilise their community to do the same. And the success of the uncommitted movement is inspiring similar efforts across states.

The uncommitted movement is doing something unprecedented in modern US history, turning a primary election into a ballot measure, a referendum against genocide. If democracy really was on the ballot in 2020, what’s left of America’s soul is on it now.

To win, Palestinians don’t even need a plurality. They just need to prove that voters won’t forget in a tight election come November.

Palestinians and their resilience have inspired and bettered all of us. Their boycotts have forced us to reckon with our consumerism; their activism with our indifference; and their plight with Western hypocrisy. 

Most recently, Palestinians have even taught us how to use our electoral system for the people, not just special interests, lobbyists, and the powerful. The uncommitted movement is a rejection of “voting blue no matter who,” with an implied no matter what.

It is a reminder that politicians must earn our votes. It’s so simple yet so easily forgotten in the Trump era. For Democrats, scolding has replaced campaigning, settling has replaced inspiring, and dead Muslims have become a non-negotiable policy despite running against Trump’s Muslim ban.

Those of good conscience will no longer subsidise the failures of Democrats simply because Republicans are worse. While Democratic operatives have called Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, and their allies naive and uninformed, Palestinians have simply diagnosed the broken system.

And there is no kinder way of doing this than voting uncommitted, which gives Democrats time to see the error in their ways, both politically and morally, and thus reverse course. Palestinians in Gaza do not have such time. 


Palestinian advocacy has led to nearly 50 ceasefire resolutions, thousands of calls and emails to representatives, multiple marches on Washington with over 300,000 attendees, and ultimately culminated in popular support for a ceasefire and restricted military aid to Israel.

Despite this, the Biden administration has continued support for Israel and insulted Palestinians in the process. From spreading false information about beheaded babies to denying Gaza Health Ministry death tolls, Biden’s callousness to death, decency, and his own polling, has created a stain on the Democratic party that, like blood, may be permanent.

In Michigan and North Carolina, 13 percent of voters marked uncommitted or no preference, 19 percent in Minnesota, and 29 percent in Hawaii. More uncommitted campaigns are emerging in states such as Colorado, Minnesota, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Wisconsin.

As the movement grows beyond Michigan and Minnesota, states with large Muslim populations, we will observe what Muslim and Arab Americans have always known: that Palestine is not a Muslim or Arab cause, it is a cause for anyone with a soul, a constituency that the Biden campaign gravely undercounted and underestimated.

Every voter has a red line. Without one, politicians risk no accountability. Democrats are not actually shocked that Palestinians and their allies have a limit.

After all, the party spent millions of dollars campaigning on abortion rights to win over white women, a Republican leaning demographic. The Democrats are simply shocked that the line is genocide.

Changing demographics have created a generation where immigrants and their children do not lump in genocide, the most gruesome crime a state can commit, with vague “foreign policy” issues that rarely tip an election.

Most troublesome for Democrats, Palestinian activists have successfully created a cross-cultural coalition that will not overlook crimes against humanity. 

The Biden campaign is beginning to take notice. Vice President Kamala Harris called for a 6-week pause during a recent speech, notably using the word “ceasefire” albeit not in reference to the permanent ones activists are calling for. Conveniently, six weeks is just enough to ensure that most of the significant Democratic primaries are over.  

This indicates that the White House is aware of the movement, but does not respect Palestinians enough to promote policies in good faith, just cheaply veiled semantics. The same organisers who flipped a broken electoral system on its head to fight genocide won’t be swayed by meaningless gestures.

Ultimately it is Palestinians who will free Palestine, both abroad and in the diaspora. And although it is presumptive to say they will free us, their movement and tactics have inspired us to dream about what’s possible.

Voting uncommitted is both a warning and a misnomer. Palestinians and their allies are committed. We’re committed to a free Palestine, and more broadly, to justice. 

Irfan Kovankaya is a writer and former board member of the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine and former organiser with the Dream Defenders. Irfan holds a BA in political science and international studies with a focus in the Middle East. 

Follow him on Twitter: @IrfanInHiding

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.