Yemen Strikes Are Another Nail in Joe Biden’s Coffin for Muslim Voters

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Airstrikes in Yemen launched on the orders of President Joe Biden appear to be another nail in his coffin for Arab and Muslim voters, Newsweek interviews with activists and community members suggest.

Biden ordered multiple airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen following what he described as an “extensive diplomatic campaign” to stop the attacks on shipping vessels passing through the Red Sea. The United States military carried out the first round of strikes on Thursday with the United Kingdom and had support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands. On Friday, the U.S. launched an additional strike against the Houthis. Meanwhile, the Houthis vowed to retaliate and continue its attacks in the Red Sea.

Edward Ahmed Mitchell, deputy executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told Newsweek via telephone on Friday that the civil rights group is “deeply disturbed” by the “illegal” airstrikes in Yemen.

“We’re deeply disturbed to see the Biden administration escalating this crisis by bombing Yemen without congressional approval, instead of simply addressing the root of the crisis, which is the ongoing genocide in Gaza. If the genocide comes to an end, the temperature in the region will come down,” Mitchell said.

He added: “From our perspective, this strike done without Congressional approval is illegal, it’s dangerous and ultimately it’s not going to bring peace, it’s just going to escalate the risk of war.”

In a statement, Biden said the Houthis had “endanger[ed] freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most vital waterways,” and that strikes were “a clear message that the United States and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel…”

Responding to Biden’s statement, Mitchell said, “I think many people are disturbed that our government is quick to protect commercial shipping, but not quick to protect the thousands of children who are being murdered in, gosh, it’d be great to see us caring about both.”

Newsweek reached out to the White House and Biden campaign via email for comment.

President Joe Biden is seen at a campaign event on January 5 in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. People hold anti-U.S. and Israel banners in a protest held against Israel on its aerial offensive on the Gaza Strip on October 20, 2023, in Sana’a, Yemen. Airstrikes in Yemen launched on the orders of Biden appear to be another nail in his coffin for Arab and Muslim voters, Newsweek interviews with activists and community members suggest.
Drew Angerer/Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images

The Houthis, an Iran-backed Shia political and military organization, have been striking shipping vessels in the Red Sea for weeks following Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel on October 7, 2023. The Houthis have declared their support for the Palestinian militant group and said that it will attack ships coming in and out of Israel.

On October 7, Hamas led the deadliest Palestinian militant attack on Israel in history. Israel subsequently launched its heaviest-ever airstrikes on Gaza, home to more than 2 million Palestinians. Israeli officials have said that about 1,200 people in Israel were killed and some 250 hostages were taken in Hamas’ attack, according to the Associated Press. Meanwhile, more than 23,800 Palestinians have been killed, officials from the health ministry in Gaza said.

The White House has remained loyal to its ally Israel during the conflict in the Middle East, supporting its right to self-defense and pushing Congress to approve an additional $14.3 billion in aid. Biden’s response to the fighting in Gaza has sparked criticism of the president from pro-Palestinian groups across the country and progressives in Congress.

Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat and the only Palestinian American member of Congress, has been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian people and a strong critic of Biden amid the United States’ response to the fighting in Gaza. Tlaib, along with other Palestinian supporters, have accused Israel of carrying out a genocide against the people of Gaza—which Israel denies—and called for an immediate ceasefire in the region.

Mitchell’s criticisms of the Biden administration’s failure to seek Congress’s approval before launching the strikes in Yemen echoed Tlaib’s post on X, formerly Twitter, on Thursday. The congresswoman wrote, “@POTUS is violating Article I of the Constitution by carrying out airstrikes in Yemen without congressional approval. The American people are tired of endless war.”

Biden formally notified Congress on Friday of the strikes in a letter, which said that they “were taken to deter and degrade Houthi capacity to conduct future attacks.”

Biden Faces Trouble With Arab and Muslim Voters

A coalition of Muslim Americans in critical swing states have gone as far as to start a #AbandonBiden campaign, urging voters to not reelect the president in 2024 because of his response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The overwhelming majority of Muslims have told us and shared with us in our mosques and our community groups, they can never see themselves voting for the president in the upcoming election,” Jaylani Hussein, director of the Minnesota chapter of the CAIR who was not speaking on behalf of the civil rights group, told Newsweek last month.

Dr. Hassan Abdel Salam from the #AbandonBiden campaign told Newsweek via email on Saturday, “The situation in Yemen proved that the AbandonBiden campaign has been accurate in foreshadowing the disaster that is the President’s policy on Gaza…The US cannot simply use force in this unchecked manner…Palestine is perhaps the most important foreign policy issue to Muslim Americans and Muslims worldwide.”

Salam added: “In terms of voters, Biden, we have been informed that Muslim and Arab Americans will run back into his lesser-than-two-evil arms…Arab Americans are no longer shocked, but now, there is no way Muslim and Arab Americans will vote for him.”

Mitchell, speaking on behalf of CAIR on Friday, said, “We don’t tell people who to vote for or who to vote against. We just kind of track their sentiments and encourage them to turn out to vote no matter who they’re supporting. My expectation is that the genocide in Gaza is going to have a major impact on the political leanings and decisions with American Muslims in the coming election and the elections beyond, I don’t know how that’s going to shake out.”

“I think Biden’s standing [with Arab and Muslim voters] has already suffered tremendously because of his Israel-Palestine policy and his unconditional support for [Benjamin] Bibi Netanyahu. Despite mounting evidence of war crimes and possibly genocide,” Wa’el Alzayat, the CEO of Emgage, a nonprofit aimed at educating and mobilizing Muslim American voters, told Newsweek via phone on Saturday.

Israel has maintained that it is acting in self-defense. Israeli legal adviser Tal Becker told the United Nations International Court of Justice on Friday that the country is fighting a “war it did not start and did not want,” after South Africa accused Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. He added: “In these circumstances, there can hardly be a charge more false and more malevolent than the allegation against Israel of genocide.”

“We are hearing from Muslim, Arab voters that they’re extremely unhappy, disappointed and many are saying as of right now, based on what they have seen, they will not be voting for Biden,” Alzayat said.

He added that people may vote third party or “there’s always the fear that voters will stay at home.” However, Alzayat said that former President Donald Trump, who is the GOP frontrunner, is not an option.

“Emgage and the community is very clear-eyed about who Donald Trump is. We got four years of him, of his racist, bigoted policies. He has communicated very well how awful he will be toward our communities and quite frankly toward our democracy,” he said. “And he has even promised to be even more harmful toward Palestinians and so as far as we’re concerned we’re very aware of what he is and we will not be taking any steps to promote him or champion him, let alone endorse him.”

Newsweek reached out to Trump’s campaign spokesperson via email for comment.

Abed Ayoub, national executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), told Newsweek via telephone on Friday, “Both Arab voters, Muslim voters have already shared their frustrations with the Biden Administration, which we’ve been saying since October it’s gonna to impact the election.”

However, Ayoub said, “That should be the last of this administration’s concerns right now,” adding that “there’s real worry” about the U.S. getting pulled “even deeper” into another war.

When asked who Arab and Muslim Americans would vote for, if not Biden, Ayoub said, it’s up to the voters.

“We live in a country where people can vote as they please and if it’s not for Biden and if it’s not for [Donald] Trump or whoever the Republican nominee is, maybe it’s a third-party candidate,” Ayoub said, adding that “there’s going to be a shock come this November.”

Meanwhile, Democratic strategist Melissa DeRosa, defended Biden’s strikes in Yemen, telling Newsweek via email on Friday, “The current hostilities in the Mideast provides insight into what’s gone awry in US politics. Most Americans rightly believe that supporting Israel—our only democratic ally in the middle east—in the face of brutal, terrorist attacks from Hamas on October 7th is not only not controversial, but the right thing to do—full stop.”

DeRosa criticized those speaking out against Biden’s approach in the Middle East.

“In that vein, President Biden is now taking strong action to protect the national interest in Suez with respect to yet another barbaric tribe, the Houthis,” she said. “Yet the far left—operating without regard to the notion of a democratic coalition or the need for US action abroad—proves once again how out of step they are by doubling down against the President, continuing to demonstrate that they have a much louder microphone than they deserve. For them, it’s about their ideology and not about the party or the country.”

What the Polls Show

The polls have also tracked a growing problem for the Biden campaign as Muslim voters share their dissatisfaction with the president.

Emgage released a survey in early November 2023 that found just 5.2 percent of Muslim Americans it sampled said they would vote for Biden in 2024. The survey’s margin of error was not included with the results, but Emgage said it included 2,200 responses from a randomized sample of Muslim voters in Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Texas, and North Carolina.

This is a steep decline from the 86 percent of Muslim Americans who voted for Biden in 2020, according to a survey conducted by polling firm Change Research on behalf of Emgage and the Muslim American nonprofit, Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). The poll surveyed 508 Muslim voters nationwide from March 2 to 29, 2021, and June 17 to 25, 2021. The margin of error was 5.8 percent.

Meanwhile, a poll conducted late last year by Lake Research Partners, a Democratic research firm, and commissioned by Detroit Action, a grassroots union aimed at fighting housing and economic justice, found that only 16 percent of Arab and Muslim Democrats in Michigan would vote for Biden. The poll surveyed 513 registered likely Democratic voters from October 30 to November 2, including the oversampled subgroup of Arab and Muslim Democrats. The margin of error for the poll was 4.9 percent, however the margin of error was over twice as large among the subgroup because of its small sample size.

Adam Abutaa, a Muslim voter in Virginia, wrote on X on Friday, “Biden will not win Michigan. Muslim voters will not forget about the genocide that President Biden is doubling down in supporting, especially with him bombing Yemen.

“Muslim & Arab Voters were initially backing Senator Sanders for President in the prior presidential primary cycle, simply because of one policy difference, being that he is willing to withhold aid to Israel with human rights concessions in place. Muslim & Arab voters in Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Pennsylvania will not be voting for Biden come November. Supporting a genocide has consequences #AbandonBiden.”

Democratic political strategist Waleed Shahid described incidents following the October 7 attack that negatively impacted the Muslim community’s view of Biden, “like questioning the death toll, like refusing to call the family of the six-year-old boy in Illinois for a week who was stabbed multiple times in a hate crime.”

“When people feel these kinds of things on an identity level it’s hard to shake their distrust of the president that he cares about people like them,” Shahid said in a video shared to X by Justice Democrats, a Democratic political action committee, on Thursday.

DeRosa, meanwhile, believes Biden will get help from other parties in 2024.

“Governmentally President Biden is doing the right and responsible thing and while the far left shouts into the wind, politically I believe the move will attract needed support among independents and sensible sane republicans going into 2024,” she said.

Backlash From Political Opponent

Dr. Jill Stein, a candidate for the Green Party’s nomination in the 2024 presidential election, called out Biden’s decision to attack Yemen, telling Newsweek on Friday via email that the U.S. is now “risking serious escalation.”

“And by launching offensive military action without congressional approval, Joe Biden has violated both the Constitution and the War Powers Act,” Stein said.

Stein explained: “It’s not only Muslim Americans who are horrified by this. So too are youth and many in our communities of color. In fact, a landslide majority of US voters want a ceasefire and an end to this genocidal war—much of it paid for with our tax dollars. Congress and the White House, however, are listening to AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] and the war profiteers instead of the people.

“There is a growing movement to use the power of democracy to demand our elected officials listen to us, not the lobbyists, super PACs and big campaign donors. Specifically, people are pledging not to support pro-genocide candidates in the upcoming election, and to give their support to candidates working for a cease fire and an end to occupation, apartheid and genocide.”

Stein said that Biden’s response to the conflict in the Middle East “further undermine the confidence and support of the American people, contributing to the continuing downward slide of his poll numbers and prospects for November.”