American Muslim leaders told President Joe Biden in a small private meeting on Thursday He and his management There was a need to show more compassion for the lives of Palestinians and push back against them In his comment this week Which casts doubt on the numbers of civilian deaths in Gaza Provided by the Ministry of Health there, according to what two attendees said.
The meeting, which was described as frank and fruitful, also included calls for a ceasefire in Gaza. This came amid a state of frustration in society White House dealing For the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
President He was receptive to the group’s concerns He asked to clarify his comment about the death toll, saying that he was trying to distinguish between Hamas and the Palestinian people, according to what attendees who spoke to CNN said. Attendees left believing their message had been taken seriously.
Since the conflict began earlier this month, Biden and his administration have faced intense criticism from Muslim Americans over how they have handled the crisis in the Middle East, including accusations of showing less sympathy for Palestinians than for Israelis. Some groups, many of which led door-to-door voting campaigns for Biden in 2020, have warned that this approach could become a political liability for the president as he seeks re-election.
The White House has sought to address these concerns through meetings and phone calls between administration officials, Muslim leaders, and community advocates. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met earlier this week with American leaders from Jewish, Arab and Palestinian-American groups, and senior National Security Council officials also held meetings with American Muslim leaders.
This outreach comes amid calls from many of the president’s Democratic allies to amplify concerns about increasing civilian casualties in Gaza, along with growing fears of Islamophobia in the United States. Last week, former President Barack Obama issued a rare, lengthy statement on the situation in the Middle East, offering a stark warning that cutting off food and water from Gaza could lead to “a hardening of Palestinian attitudes for many generations.”
Biden denounced attacks on Muslim Americans during an Oval Office speech last week, and his team sought input from a variety of communities while crafting his remarks.
As concerns about the crisis grow, the president and his team have expressed growing concern about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which worsened in the wake of the Hamas attack on Israel earlier this month. While Biden still strongly supports Israel’s right to defend itself and eliminate Hamas, he has been bolder about the need to protect civilian lives and open the Strip to humanitarian aid.
He told a reporter this week that aid is not flowing into Gaza fast enough. So far, a few trucks loaded with supplies have been allowed to pass into the area, but not enough to meet current needs.
The Palestinian Strip is witnessing a shortage of food, water, fuel, and medical supplies for hospitals, and civilians have been unable to leave. The White House began calling for a “humanitarian truce” to allow for a faster flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza and for civilians to leave. The United States is also working to release hostages held by Hamas, a task made more difficult by heavy Israeli bombing.
In a phone call on Wednesday, Biden discussed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “continued US support for the ongoing flow of humanitarian support to the civilian population in Gaza and welcomed efforts to increase this support during the coming period.” The White House declined to say whether the president specifically discussed “humanitarian pauses” with Netanyahu in the phone call.
However, Biden’s comment at a press conference on Wednesday that he had “no confidence” in the death numbers provided by the Gaza Ministry of Health drew condemnation from major American Muslim groups.
“I have no idea that the Palestinians are telling the truth about the death toll,” Biden said. He added: “I am sure that innocent people were killed, and this is the price of waging war.”
Nihad Awad, executive director of the largest American Muslim advocacy organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, criticized Biden’s statements.
“We are deeply disturbed and shocked by the inhumane comments made by President Biden regarding the nearly 7,000 Palestinians slaughtered by the Israeli government over the past two weeks,” Awad said, adding: “President Biden must apologize for his comments, and condemn the Israeli government.” To deliberately target civilians, and demand a ceasefire before more innocent people die.”
A day later, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby acknowledged the killing of thousands of Palestinian civilians during the Israeli bombing of Gaza. But he rejected accusations that Biden’s comments on the killing of civilians in Gaza were cruel and insensitive.
“What’s cruel is the way Hamas uses people as human shields. What’s cruel is holding a few hundred hostage and leaving anxious families waiting and anxious to find out where their loved ones are. What’s cruel is going to a music festival and slaughtering a bunch of young people,” Kirby said. “Who were trying to enjoy the afternoon.”
“And being honest about the fact that there have been civilian casualties, and that there are probably more, is honesty, because that’s what war is: it’s brutal, it’s ugly, it’s messy.”
The Hamas-controlled Gaza Ministry of Health responded to Biden’s public questions about the reliability of casualty numbers in a statement published by the ministry on Thursday. The ministry published a 212-page report listing the names of thousands of what it described as “documented deaths since October 7” in Gaza, which it said were the result of Israeli raids.
American Muslim leaders who met with Biden at the White House on Thursday expressed concern about what they said was a public lack of compassion for Palestinian lives, according to two attendees, and told the president of his recent comments about the civilian death toll in 2016. Gaza was devastated.
The group also appealed to the president to meet with more Palestinians as part of his engagement in the conflict.
During the meeting, Biden seemed to accept some of the attendees’ concerns. He sought to clarify a comment he made the previous day about the number of civilian deaths, one attendee said, which he said had been misunderstood and perhaps not expressed clearly enough.
Those attending the meeting included Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison; Imam Muhammad Majid of the All Dallas Area Islamic Society Center in Sterling, Virginia; Wael El-Zayat, a former State Department official who is now CEO of Emgage, a group that works to mobilize American Muslim voters; Rami Nashashibi, a Palestinian-American who is executive director of the Inner City Islamic Action Network in Chicago; and Suzanne Barakat, whose brother, a Muslim student, was murdered in North Carolina in 2015.
The group also raised questions about the US approach to the conflict, and attendees called for a ceasefire, which the White House has so far rejected.
“What was shared with him was clearly understood, heard clearly and clearly felt,” one attendee said afterward, adding that they hoped the president and his administration would “do a better job of the way they talk about it.” The conflict, about the Palestinians, about the Muslims, about the Arabs, about the framing of what is happening.
“Infuriatingly humble alcohol fanatic. Unapologetic beer practitioner. Analyst.”