WASHINGTON, D.C. — Emgage PAC, the first and largest Muslim American federal policial action committee, announced Thursday that it is endorsing former Vice President Joe Biden for president. The PAC is the support and endorsement arm of Emgage, a well known organization working to promote Muslim American civil engagement, that has also done work among Muslim communities in Metro Detroit through its Dearborn chapter.
Emgage PAC had previously endorsed Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who himself suspended his campaign and officially threw his support behind Biden earlier this week. With Sanders’ support, much of the so-called progressive faction of the Democratic voter block can be expected to turn up for Biden at the polls in November.
This may not be the case for all Sanders supporters, however, as many take issue with Biden’s voting record, specifically on his support for the Iraq war in 2002, threatening civil liberties by voting for the Patriot Act in 2001 and on the domestic front with votes to end bankruptcy protection for students with debt and support for the often cited “tough on crimes” 1994 punitive Crime Bill, arguably creating lasting negative effects for the country’s poor.
Notably, Biden has had a similarly questionable history around the subject of Palestine and Israeli occupation. He has been known to favor an approach that keeps U.S. military aid to Israel intact while sometimes criticizing settlement building and annexation as a roadblock to peace. He has openly defended Israel’s right to exist and defend itself and has never framed it as an aggressor or guilty of human rights violations against Palestinians. Biden has also opposed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement.
The Arab American News asked Emgage PAC CEO Wa’el Alzayat about what Biden’s foreign policy record could mean for a potential Biden presidency and why it was important for his organization to endorse Biden for president.
Emgage PAC sent out questionnaires to top Democratic candidates a while back as part of its endorsement process. As part of this process, the organization surveyed the community and its own members, looked at the track record of candidates and asked candidates about their position on a range of issues.
“It is important to understand that Muslim Americans do not elect officials based on any one issue,” Alzayat said. “As Americans we care about many domestic and foreign issues.
“We as a national Muslim American organization have to be attuned to and reflective of all of those concerns as much as possible, including the concerns of a third of Muslim Americans who are Black, who care quite a bit about social justice and criminal justice reform. We care a lot about millennials and students; 50 percent of Muslim Americans are under the age of 30, so student debt relief and the prospects for jobs after they leave college. We care quite a bit about healthcare, affordable healthcare, as a big chunk of our community is headed toward retirement.”
Alzayat said that the primary issues of concern in Emgage PAC’s survey was healthcare and education, not Israel and Palestine, though that was one of the top five in foreign policy. Emgage PAC endorsed Sanders originally because of his inclusive approach to Muslims and for ensuring that earning the Muslim vote was a part of his electoral strategy.
“Bernie dropped out and for us as a Muslim American political organization, there is now a binary choice in the field,” Alzayat said. “It’s either Biden or Trump; and when you stack all the issues, including Palestine and Israel, there’s no comparison.
“I think there is legitimate concern about Biden not saying enough about the troubling rise of anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian racism in Israel, about the passage of the Nation State Law. We would like to see him say more about his plans to curb settlement activities.”
He said there is no comparison, however, with the Trump administration’s approach to the region. This includes moving the embassy to Jerusalem, shutting down the Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem, shutting down the PLO office in Washington D.C. and cutting humanitarian aid to Palestinians, including funding to the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
“We hope that Biden will do enough (for Palestinians) and he may not, but we have absolute intentions to engage him and push him to do more,” Alzayat said. “But, should Trump stay in office for another four years, a top casualty of his administration will be the Palestinians.”
Alzayat said that a Biden presidency would go a long way in preserving democratic institutions and protecting values and principles many Americans uphold and in turning a chapter on the right-wing, pseudo-fascist, political reality of the Trump administration.
Biden, for his part, has engaged with the organization around this issue of Palestine, and has promised a recontinuation of humanitarian aid to Palestine. He has also committed to rolling back discriminatory policies, including the Muslim Ban and mass detention of migrants and family separation and raising the annual refugees admissions cap to at least 125,000.