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Israel-Hamas war divides U.S. politics into support for Israel or Palestinians

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The war between Israel and Hamas has exposed political divides here in the United States, and they matter in swing states, where a few thousand votes could plausibly change the outcome in next year's election. Consider Michigan, which is where we find NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea. Hey there, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

INSKEEP: What are you hearing in that state?

GONYEA: I was at a recent pro-Palestinian protest in downtown Detroit. And the anger, the frustration - I mean, it was overwhelming. There's worry about Palestinians caught in the crossfire of the Israel-Hamas war. They condemn Hamas for the atrocities of October 7, but they are angry that innocent Palestinians suffer and die as Israel responds with the backing of the U.S. One of the many speakers at the rally was state lawmaker Abraham Aiyash. He's a Democrat. He's also the majority leader of the Michigan House.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ABRAHAM AIYASH: America, you promised the world that all men and women are created equal. Yet somehow we find billions of dollars to dehumanize Palestinians.

GONYEA: And that was the tone. Speaker after speaker echoed those sentiments.

INSKEEP: Yeah, I'm thinking about the Arab American community specifically in Michigan, Don, and how that was a community that Republicans cultivated - more than 20 years ago, thought was naturally a Republican constituency, but then swung to Democrats after 9/11.

GONYEA: That's right. And this area has the largest concentration of Arabs outside the Middle East. In the early 20th century, it was auto jobs that were the big lure. Mosques sprung up, businesses of all kinds. More and more came, and over the years, some immigrants arrived fleeing war. And if you pay a visit, it is easy to see the deep ties to their ancestral homes. And when war breaks out far away, they feel it.

INSKEEP: Well, then, we have this constituency that in recent years seems to lean Democratic. Is this war affecting sentiment about President Biden?

GONYEA: Absolutely. One typical conversation we had was with a student at Michigan State University. Yusuf Abbas is his name. He voted for Biden in 2020. But listen to his disillusionment today.

YUSUF ABBAS: With his leadership, eventually, I was hoping that, you know, there would be significant progress towards lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis, and when I see him, it feels as though he does not show as much care towards the loss of life of Palestinians as he does for Israelis.

GONYEA: So hope early on, anger, disillusionment now - it's a harsh assessment, but a very common one.

INSKEEP: Is the Arab American vote big enough to make a difference in Michigan?

GONYEA: Let me run some numbers. Biden won this group by a huge margin, according to exit polls. He got maybe 67, 68% of the vote. There are some 200,000 registered voters in Michigan who are Arab American. Biden only carried the state by 150,000 votes, so if it's that close again or closer, then these Arab American votes can absolutely be decisive.

INSKEEP: Are there some voters who are saying, I may withhold my vote? I may not vote at all in 2024?

GONYEA: Oh, it's easy to find them, and activists are on that. It's the only leverage they feel like they have. And at that rally, it was the main message. Protect Palestinian lives or face political consequences.

INSKEEP: NPR's Don Gonyea reporting from Detroit. Don, it's always a pleasure hearing from you. Thanks so much.

GONYEA: Thanks. Again, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.