The Uncommitted: Pa. primary is another litmus test for Biden’s handling of Israel-Hamas war in Gaza

A coalition wants 50,000 voters to write in “uncommitted” for president, rather than a candidate. The message: Stop aiding genocide or risk losing the state.

people marching in the street for a ceasefire

More than 100 people marched down Germantown Avenue from Lovett Memorial Library to the Johnson House Historic Site to demand a ceasefire in Gaza on April 6, 2024. (Emily Neil/WHYY)

Elections 2024: Your voter game plan

On a recent chilly, overcast day, President Joe Biden addressed supporters at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Recreation Center in North Philly after accepting the endorsement of the Kennedy family.

Biden recounted learning of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and how the “pain and outrage sparked riots and despair all across the country.”

Meanwhile, several dozen activists protested outside with signs demanding Washington “end all U.S. aid to Israel” and “fund healthcare” instead. One sign declared that the “Palestinian Genocide” is co-signed by the BBC, CNN, and the New York Times.

The televised despair in Gaza is bringing videos of killed, maimed, and starving civilians and children to Arab-American, young, and progressive voters who could potentially tip the balance of the presidential election this fall.

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“They’re babies that are dying,” a young Palestinian-American Philadelphia resident – who only identified herself as “S.” – told WHYY News. “Have you seen the list? There are a lot of kids on that list. Those are human beings. We don’t just go around shooting kids. Just yesterday, they bombed a refugee camp playground. Thirteen children died. Have you seen those bloody videos? I’ve seen a 3-year-old with limbs amputated. That’s not okay.”

Israel Defense Forces deny that they intentionally target children, but Israel does not refute United Nations estimates that more than 13,000 children have been killed in the conflict so far.

With no clear frontrunner to offer their votes, many local residents of Middle Eastern descent plan on not voting for president, leaving the line blank. Many of them are joining the Uncommitted PA movement which calls on constituents to write in “uncommitted” at the top of the ballot rather than one of the presidential candidates.

Miracle Jones, a volunteer organizer with Uncommitted PA, says she has voted in every election since she turned 18 — she’s 36 now — and usually votes Democratic. She is still performing her civic duty on Primary Day but will be one of those votes.

“I think it’s important that we use the reflective democracy to show our disdain for what’s happening and our opposition and this tool, the uncommitted campaign is one of the ways that we’re able to engage in the electoral process and directly talk to those who are representing us,” Jones told WHYY News.

Jones said the Biden Administration should call for a total ceasefire and make further aid to Israel conditional. However, she also said politicians could do more for their Arab American neighbors.

“There are people here in Pennsylvania who lost hundreds of family members,” she said. “There are people here in Pennsylvania whose family members were killed in the West Bank. There are people here in Pennsylvania whose family members were targeted for revenge killings for October 7th by settlers. And our elected officials have done absolutely nothing to support these families.”

More than 100,000 Democratic primary voters in Michigan cast ballots for “uncommitted” in the race, many of these in Dearborn and Hamtramck, where half the populations are Arab American. Biden won Michigan with more than 618,000 votes, but that margin is concerning to Democrats, given Biden won the state by only 154,000 votes in 2020.

Another coalition, which includes the Democratic Socialists of PA, spearheaded the local movement hoping to repeat that success.

A much smaller percentage of Arab Americans live in Pennsylvania than in Michigan, according to the Arab American Institute Foundation. However, Biden also won the Keystone State by a smaller number — just over 80,000. The estimated 1.7 to 2% of likely voters identifying as Arab American exceed the 1.17% difference Biden won by in 2020 and could therefore affect the outcome of the election in November.

Jones says the response from the campaign has been good and they have reached more than 50,000 voters already, with the goal of 40,000 voting “uncommitted” in the primary.

Whether the White House hears the message is another story.

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“We’re hopeful,” Jones says. “If he can’t hear the cries of Palestinian kids dying and pleading for help, we don’t know if he’s going to hear us voters saying this is not okay. But we’re hopeful that he hears, hopeful that he cares and if not him, other people in the party — that other elected officials will say, enough is enough and to change course.”

For many, voting “uncommitted” is not an easy decision, knowing that the stakes are high but left feeling they don’t have a choice.

“It’s a struggle, and I will say that in the past, I was supportive of Biden, but not anymore,” S. said. “This isn’t between the worst of the worst. Biden is the worst, so I know that I’m not voting for Biden. Point blank.”

She only identified herself as “S” in order to avoid being labeled a “terrorist.” “Pro-Palestinians are labeled as Hamas supporters,” S. added. “I’m a Palestinian who does not support Hamas, and I never have. And no one in my entire family ever has once said they support of Hamas.”

The non-profit manager also hopes that the president gets the message this primary season that could permit him to still earn her vote in the general election.

“He could sever ties with Israel and stop funding them – simple,” she said, as the crowd behind her, as if on cue, started chanting “defund” Israel. “I work really hard for my money, and it’s going to another country to kill my people. It does not make sense for our tax dollars to go to another country when we could be using those tax dollars in our own communities.”

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