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Human rights Prof. Hassan Abdel Salam has spent the past seven years teaching his students at the University of Minnesota about genocides around the world. On the last day of his class on global Islamophobia in April, he said he was quitting the classroom to oppose what he described as genocide in Gaza — by helping lead the "Abandon Biden" movement to defeat the president in November.

"It was very emotional," Abdel Salam said. "I just need to throw myself and put all my energy into this ... and I feel like huge change can happen."

Abdel Salam, 48, is among a group of Muslim activists, including several Minnesotans, who are organizing in nine swing states in opposition to Biden's re-election. The group's leaders say they want to politically punish the president for what they describe as enabling mass civilian casualties in Gaza.

They say they oppose Donald Trump, too, but are OK if their efforts help re-elect the former president who once banned Muslims from the United States and threatens to do it again.

"By defeating [Biden], it would signal to the entire political landscape that defending genocide could lead to your defeat, so beware," Abdel Salam said. "That's my goal … promote the message throughout the nation and ensure it's a consistent one."

He said he and other Abandon Biden leaders are evaluating third-party candidates and plan to make an endorsement this summer. And if Trump wins because of their work, "the big gift that would come out of punishing the president is that an entire party ... becomes a pro-Palestinian party against the occupation and will begin to look for equity much more aggressively than we have in the past," Abdel Salam said.

A recent New York Times poll found that Trump led Biden with 57% support among Middle Eastern, North African and Muslim voters in battleground states.

Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, said the group's aims are unreasonable. "Nothing short of sacrificing Israel's right to self-defense will meet the goals of the Abandon Biden crowd," he said.

Abdel Salam and other Minnesota Muslims launched Abandon Biden after the president failed to meet their demand to call for a permanent cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas fighting by Oct. 31 as civilian casualties mounted in Gaza.

The Israeli military launched the war with Hamas after the Palestinian terrorist group attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 252 hostages — about half of them remain captive.

Abandon Biden leaders said the president's recent pause of an arms shipment to Israel was too little, too late after months of war, which Gaza health authorities say has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians. The damage has been done, the group's leaders say, and trust has been lost.

The Biden administration said this month that it is moving forward with another $1 billion in weapons sales to Israel.

With the Israel-Hamas war in its eighth month and after several hundred thousand Americans have voted "uncommitted" in Democratic primaries, Abandon Biden is zeroing in on states with closer margins where Muslims in some cases can potentially swing a tight general election.

While those states have their own leaders and campaign infrastructure, Minnesota Muslim leaders, including Abdel Salam, account for 3 of 5 board members of the national organization. The other Minnesotans are health care professional Sadia Tarannum and Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Hussein said Minnesota has about 50,000 Muslim voters, well short of the 233,012-vote margin by which Biden bested Trump in the state in 2020. Hussein said he believes that there's just a 30% chance of succeeding here.

But he said chances are good in states where Biden had much smaller winning margins: Georgia, Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Hussein said the Abandon Biden group is also focusing on Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Nevada and Florida.

"Our math right now shows really no pathway for Biden to win," he said.

Muslims, he said, are mobilizing, fundraising and talking about voting differently in the long term.

"The talk that I'm hearing from many community leaders is if [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] can do it, we also can ... I just think that there is a huge political shift, and a lot of the political pundits and Democrats are not waking up," Hussein said.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is Muslim, said he understands how people feel, but he still plans to campaign for Biden.

"I know a lot of people who have lost loved ones, many loved ones, living in Gaza,'' Ellison said. "They're absolutely heartbroken and in a very, very vulnerable emotional condition.

"But I'm looking toward what the future looks like. ... And what that means to me is Trump can't be any part of that. Trump's the one who came up with the Muslim ban. He said he would do it again. Trump won't do anything to alleviate the harm to Palestinians; in fact, he'll do worse."

Ellison said that, among other actions, Trump closed the Palestine Liberation Organization's diplomatic mission in Washington, D.C.; moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem; stopped funding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees; and brokered the 2020 Abraham Accords to try to bring Israel and other Arab countries to peace "without doing anything for Palestine."

He said he has told Biden that "a cease-fire is where the country needs to be. … I told him that the U.S. needs to be on the side of keeping people alive, and it ultimately lands on the Palestinian state. If you want to undermine Hamas, a Palestinian state is the best way to do it."

Ellison said it isn't realistic for Biden's opponents to think they'll punish him at the ballot box. If the president loses, Ellison said, he'll live the life of a former president, "which is not the worst thing."

Among 14 Muslim voters interviewed by the Star Tribune at 24 Somali Mall, a south Minneapolis shopping center that is home to a mosque, all but three said they would not vote for Biden in November. Just one said he supported the president, and two said they had not yet decided.

A trio of men at a mall café said they would vote for Trump, as they sat near a TV tuned to Al Jazeera's footage of devastation in Gaza. Abdulhi Ibrahim said he believes Biden paused arms shipments to Israel to win political favor, but that he's repeatedly seen that his actions and words don't match.

He said he's concerned that Biden has sent billions of dollars in military aid to Israel and Ukraine while citizens of this country suffer.

Trump's "words may hurt you, he's talking bad stuff all the time," Abdulahi Dodi said, "but he's better than Biden. … Trump is more peaceful than Biden."

Libaan Khalif said he voted for Biden in 2020, but after seeing so many civilians die in Gaza and Biden not stopping the war, he would not vote for him again. "Trump is worse," he said, "but that will not make me vote for Biden. I will not. I will either stay home or vote for a third party."

Abdi Ali said watching so many women and children die without the president moving to stop the deaths feels like a friend stabbing him in the back.

The Democratic Party, he said, "thinks that because we're scared of Trump, we're going to vote for [Biden], and we will not do that. I'm not going to vote for Trump, but if he comes, let him. … He will stay four years, but the Democrats will learn a lesson: They're going to lose their base if they don't listen to the people."

Abdel Salam visited Pennsylvania during that state's primary in April when more than 60,000 voters wrote in "uncommitted" on their ballots. He spoke at campuses and delivered a talk at a Philadelphia mosque after the primary explaining the importance of voting — not for Biden — in November. It's a change from 2016, when he described himself as so upset by Trump's victory that he disconnected from the media.

Born in Canada to Egyptian parents, Abdel Salam moved to the United States to attend graduate school and has taught in academia for 20 years. In 2022, he said he was conducting research on Palestinian youth activists in Israeli-occupied territories when he and a research assistant were imprisoned in harsh conditions for three weeks and deported. While he says the current Israeli government is ruthless, Abdel Salam started his courses with discussions of the Holocaust and the Genocide Convention adopted by the United Nations in 1948 to ensure "never again."

Quitting teaching for Abandon Biden is hard, he admitted. And he expects that if Trump is re-elected, his work resisting the White House will have to continue.

While Abandon Biden mostly included Muslim and Arab Americans at first, Abdel Salam said, the organization is now attracting Gen Z, African Americans, Latinos, progressives, libertarians and others.

"In order for moral advancement to take place, we cannot move into the formula of what is the lesser of two evils," he said.