Why Bernie Sanders being Jewish isn’t an issue for Muslim Americans

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Bernie Sanders had a sweeping victory in Dearborn, Michigan, a city with a large Arab population

Muslim voters explain that Sanders' Jewish identity is not an issue

CNN  — 

Bernie Sanders’ win over Hillary Clinton in Tuesday’s Michigan primary was a surprise, not only because he performed so much better than polls had predicted, but because he also appears to have appealed to the state’s Muslim voters.

The city of Dearborn, with a population of about 40% Arab American residents, released election results showing that among all voters there, Sanders received 59% of the votes and Hillary Clinton received 39%.

There is no way to know exactly how much support Sanders had among Muslim voters specifically, but Sanders’ strong showing in an area with a high concentration of Arab American voters bucked an assumption some media commentators had about Muslim voters and Jewish candidates.

Some Muslims in Michigan are voting for a Jewish candidate.

“I think this is testimony against stereotypes that Muslims are anti-Semitic,” Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, told CNN on Wednesday. “Muslim Americans are voting for policies.”

While Muslims make up just 1% of the U.S. population, some 70% of them lean towards or identify with the Democratic Party, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center report.

Sanders has come out strongly against Islamophobia. “His voice is consistent and credible for many younger Muslim voters,” Mogahed said.

Several presidential hopefuls have made comments about Muslim Americans while on the campaign trail. In fact, during Thursday’s Republican debate, CNN moderator Jake Tapper asked Donald Trump to clarify remarks he made during an interview with Anderson Cooper, in which Trump stated: “I think Islam hates us.”

Tapper asked whether Trump was referring to all Muslims, and the Republican hopeful responded, “I mean a lot of them.”

There’s more to Sanders’ appeal than just his stance on Islamophobia, Mogahed said.

“The American Muslim voter is looking for someone who will create jobs and help the economy grow. They are looking for someone who is going to bring the country together on civil rights issues,” she said.

Farah Erzouki, a 23-year-old graduate student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, voted for Sanders on Tuesday because she aligns with almost every domestic policy he has laid out.

“I appreciate the genuineness of Sanders’ campaign,” she told CNN. “I am a believer of single-payer health care, free tuition in public universities and expansion of other social service programs. I am pro-choice, pro-LGBTQ rights and am generally progressive politically.”

Sanders being Jewish is simply not an issue for her and the other Muslim American voters she knows, Erzouki said.

“I think it’s disappointing that the only time the Arab and Muslim vote has gotten this much media attention in the general election is due to the perception that Arabs and Muslims would not vote for a Jewish candidate,” she said.

Dearborn resident Mohamad Naim also voted for Sanders during the primaries because he supports Sanders political ideology.

“He’s a man of the people,” he said. “We want a president who has not been bought out by corporations and doesn’t want to go to war.”

As a first-generation American, Naim has been speaking to his parents, who are immigrants from Lebanon, about why he’s voting for Sanders.

“I told them Sanders voted against the war in Iraq, that he was against bailing out Wall Street, and my parents know he’s Jewish,” the 25-year-old Detroit teacher said. “I have never viewed Judaism as something incompatible with my own views.”

After numerous political discussions around the dinner table, the 32-year age difference between Naim and his father melted away during Michigan’s primary. Naim’s father voted for Bernie Sanders, too.