One of the great storylines from last night’s surprise victory for Bernie Sanders in Michigan is that he won the Arab-American vote– and the mainstream media are stunned that Arab Americans would vote for a Jew. Sanders won heavily-Arab-American Dearborn, by 7100 votes to Hillary Clinton’s 4700 votes. That’s a 59 to 39 percent Sanders stronghold inside Wayne County, which was a Clinton stronghold. Wrote law professor Khaled Beydoun:
— Khaled Beydoun (@KhaledBeydoun) March 9, 2016
The Detroit Free Press’s Niraj Warikoo reports that Sanders’s victory was fueled by young Arab and Muslim voters, and that he put out an Arabic ad at a time when Hillary Clinton wasn’t working that community.
On Monday afternoon, Sanders spoke to a packed theater that included many Arab-American Muslims, including several women wearing hijab, the Islamic headscarf, who sat behind him as he addressed the crowd. He was introduced by Detroit native U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress. Sanders met before the speech with the publisher of the Arab-American News, which endorsed him last week.
The narrative of Arab-American Muslims in Dearborn supporting a Jewish candidate was one that struck many on social media as a symbol of unity at a time of division on the campaign trail.
Here’s that ad:
It quotes Sanders, thrillingly:
And if we stand for anything we have got to stand together and end all forms of racism, and I will lead that effort as president of the United States.
The Arab American News endorsed Sanders last week and cited his vigorous denunciation of Islamophobia.
Sanders stands for racial justice and has unequivocally condemned Islamophobia.
Beydoun made a similar point on Twitter:
— Khaled Beydoun (@KhaledBeydoun) March 9, 2016
And notice the Arab newspaper’s brisk and refreshing acknowledgment of Sanders’s Jewishness and of America’s unfair policy on Israel’s human rights abuses. It’s impossible to imagine this language in a non-Arab publication.
On foreign policy, Sanders has shown the most even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Although his views on this issue do not rise to the aspirations of Arab Americans who would like to see Washington take a clear stance against Israel’s human rights abuses and occupation of Palestinian land, Sanders’ call for ending the blockade on Gaza is a step in the right direction. His condemnation of Israeli attacks that kill Palestinian civilians is unprecedented by any major presidential candidate.
Sanders is a Jewish American. This newspaper and the community at large do not have a bias against anyone’s ethnic or religious affiliation. Ideas are what matters.
Bear in mind, Sanders won the state by little more than 18,000 votes out of more than 1 million cast. Much of that margin was surely Arab-American.
Jeremy Scahill noted the obvious foreign policy angle:
Dearborn, MI residents have been disproportionately targeted by no-fly list, targeted by FBI/DHS etc. for being Arab/Muslim. Voted Sanders
— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) March 9, 2016
Much of the commentary on the Sanders victory in the Arab-American community has noted the media’s surprise at it. IBTimes:
Political commentators and media outlets were quick to pounce on a “fascinating” statistic from Bernie Sanders’ victory in the Michigan primary on Tuesday night: Democrats in Dearborn, a city whose population is 40 percent Arab, voted overwhelmingly for Sanders over rival Hillary Clinton (59 percent to 39 percent). The subtext of pointing out this particular statistic is clear. How, the media wondered, could a predominantly Muslim group support a Jewish candidate?
Many noticed NY radio host Brian Lehrer’s tweet from last night, because it assumed Arab Americans would not vote for a Jewish candidate (Lehrer is Jewish and almost never touches real criticism of Israel).
Maybe the stat of the night: NBC reports Dearborn Michigan, 40% Arab, goes to Jewish candidate in Democratic primary. BL
— Brian Lehrer Show (@BrianLehrer) March 9, 2016
Ali Abunimah tweeted (and he’s been widely retweeted):
Muslims overwhelmingly voting for the Jewish candidate in Michigan. Those who hold stereotypes about Muslims community are the bigoted ones.
— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) March 9, 2016
Ayesha Siddiqui said,
Some of the commentary re: Michigan Arabs voting for Bernie needs to relax, you're admitting you think Arabs are automatically antisemitic
— Ayesha A. Siddiqi (@pushinghoops) March 9, 2016
New York Times reporter Liam Stack, formerly in Cairo, said:
There is no reason to assume Arab-Americans would automatically vote against someone because they are Jewish. https://t.co/SzHLMoKIWw
— Liam Stack (@liamstack) March 9, 2016
Teachable moment, for the mainstream media.
P.S. Donald Trump won Dearborn on the Republican side, 39 to 29 to 17 (Trump/John Kasich/Ted Cruz). But his vote total, 3153, is less than half of Sanders’s 7126 and less than Hillry Clinton’s 4730. It’s a good assumption Trump’s Islamophobia didn’t resonate with Arab Americans.