Monday, May 20

Muslim, Arab American leaders dismiss Biden’s pivot on Israel as ‘too little, too late:’ ‘Irrevocably at odds’

The New York Times is putting a spotlight on the “broken relationship” between President Biden and Muslim leaders in America, even as he embraces a tougher stance against Israel in its war on Hamas. 

“Seven months into Israel’s war in Gaza, Muslim and Arab American leaders say their channels of communication with President Biden’s White House have largely broken down, leaving the administration without a politically valuable chorus of support for his significant shift on the conflict this week,” the Times began its report Friday. 

Biden made international headlines this week by announcing he would withhold weapons from Israel if the invasion of Rafah, the densely-populated city in Gaza and Hamas’ last stronghold, is carried out. 

Despite the dramatic pivot against the Jewish state, the Times reported that Biden’s actions in the eyes of Muslim and Arab American leaders are widely seen as “too little, too late.”

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“The president’s announcement is extremely overdue and horribly insufficient,” Michigan-based activist Abbas Alawieh told the Times. “He needs to come out against this war. Period. That would be significant.”

The Arab American News publisher Osama Siblani similarly had a tough message for White House officials, recalling to the Times, “I have told them frankly: ‘Don’t waste your time anymore unless you have something substantial. This is a waste of time.'” 

Siblani, who was invited to the White House earlier this year, has been a vocal supporter of Hezbollah in years past. 

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It’s been previously reported that top Biden aides have had listening sessions with Muslim leaders in Dearborn, Mich. and Chicago, where the DNC convention is being held in August. But until the Biden administration calls for a permanent cease-fire, Arab American leaders said, as described by the Times, “there was no need to keep talking.”

“By and large, prominent Muslim and Arab Americans have now concluded that they are irrevocably at odds with the Biden administration over its foreign policy, according to interviews with more than a dozen people involved in the talks. And many of them say they are tired of hearing that they should vote for Mr. Biden simply because former President Donald J. Trump would be worse,” the Times said. 

The Times warned Biden’s faltering ties with the Muslim community “could pose a significant problem” in his reelection effort, pointing to double-digit protest results in multiple Democratic primary contests earlier this year including in Michigan, though Biden aides expressed confidence that voters will carry him over the finish line as they paint his rival former President Trump as “the bigger threat.”

Notably, while Biden has a designated White House official as the “liaison to American Muslim communities,” there is currently not a similar role in his campaign. 

In one meeting with Dearborn leaders, the administration liaison, Mazen Basrawi, offered an apology for the lack of communication, according to an audio recording reviewed by the Times. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is also reportedly planning to meet with prominent Arab American groups but has been “delayed” due to his overseas travels. 

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Wa’el Alzayat, chief of the Muslim activist group Emgage, turned down a White House dinner invitation last month, telling the Times, “We don’t take lightly the opportunity to meet with the president. But at some point, as organizations that have turned out the vote largely for Democrats, by expecting us to show up to these things and not delivering on policy, they’re actually burning us.”

Alzayat called Biden’s pivot against Israel “promising and important” but it “might be too late for Rafah” as Israel carries on its military operation. 

Arab American Institute founder and longtime DNC member James Zogby said his most recent letter to the White House as well as multiple phone calls and text messages have gone unanswered for months. 

“I’ve never had the feeling of being so shut out as I feel right now,” Zogby told the Times. “And it’s not just me. It’s leadership across the country.”

“We recognize that this is a painful time for many communities and that people have strong personal views,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates told the Times. “It’s why the president remains deeply engaged in securing a hostage deal that would result in an immediate and sustained cease-fire.”

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