Israel Palestine Conflict

Criticism mounts as Arab, Muslim Americans urge Biden to act on Israel-Hamas war

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Arab and Muslim Americans and their allies are criticizing President Joe Biden’s response to the Israel-Hamas war, asking him to do more to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza or risk losing their support in the 2024 election.

Many Arab Americans accuse Biden of failing to push for any humanitarian ceasefire even as Palestinians are killed fleeing Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip, more than a dozen academics, activists, community members and administration officials said.

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Their growing frustration could impact Democrat Biden’s reelection bid, which opinion polls show is likely to be a rematch with the Republican frontrunner, former President Donald Trump.

In hotly contested Michigan, Arab Americans account for 5 percent of the vote. In other battleground states Pennsylvania and Ohio, they are between 1.7 percent to 2 percent, said Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute.

Biden won Michigan with 50.6 percent of the vote in 2020, compared to 47.8 percent for Trump, and Pennsylvania with 50.01 percent to Trump’s 48.84 percent, a difference of less than 81,000 votes.

Arab and Muslim Americans are unlikely to back Trump but could sit out the election and not vote for Biden, some activists said.

“I do think it will cost him Michigan,” said Laila El-Haddad, a Maryland-based author and social activist from Gaza.

While condemning the October 7 attacks by Hamas on civilians in Israel that killed 1,400 people, Arab Americans said the Israeli response was disproportionate and Biden’s failure to condemn the bombardment has many questioning his promise of a “human rights centered” foreign policy.

Demands for policy change

Abdullah Hammoud, the first Arab-American mayor of Dearborn, Michigan, home to the largest Muslim per capita population in the US, decried Biden’s failure to condemn Israeli threats to cut off water, electricity and food for over 2 million Palestinians in Gaza.

“Nothing could have prepared us for the complete erasure of our voices and radio silence from those whom we elected to protect and represent us,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Our family members trapped in Gaza have been ignored, our calls for a ceasefire drowned out by the drums of war.”

Biden’s push for more than $14 billion in new US aid to Israel is also drawing fire.

“If you look at his rhetoric, it’s unbelievable, and now they are trying to pump billions and billions of dollars militarily into Israel, with some $100 million in humanitarian aid for the Palestinians,” said Sa’ed Atshan, a Quaker Palestinian-American who teaches peace and conflict studies at Pennsylvania’s Swarthmore College.

Even Biden’s former boss, President Barack Obama, usually a staunch backer of Biden’s policies, offered some pointed public advice on Monday, calling on the US to continue leading the world “in accelerating critical aid and supplies to an increasingly desperate Gaza population.”

Responding to criticism says White House

Biden has appointed more Arab-Americans and Muslims to political posts than any predecessor, as well as the first two Muslim federal judges, but that diversity has not impacted policy for the self-described “Zionist” President.

Some Arab American and Muslim appointees are scared of backlash and reprisals and worried about family members in the region, said one White House official, who is Arab-American.

“There are very vocal people in the administration who have concerns,” the official said. US officials with family in the region are doubly stressed by the “ambassadorial” role they play as they field agitated messages from relatives and others angry at Biden’s Israel strategy.

The White House said it was aware of and responding to criticism of its policies by meeting with administration officials and community members. Biden has made forceful speeches since taking office on the need to confront Islamophobia and hate of all kinds, it said.

Biden’s chief of staff Jeff Zients and adviser Anita Dunn are meeting staffers and community members and urging cabinet secretaries to do the same, White House officials said.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan and his principal deputy Jon Finer met with Arab and Muslim American community leaders on Oct. 13, and the White House officials hosted 30 Palestinian American youth on Friday.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged the personal difficulties some staff are facing in a Thursday letter, and met Monday with Palestinian and Arab American community leaders and Jewish American groups.

One 11-year State department veteran, the director of congressional and public affairs for its Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Josh Paul, quit his job last week. Top officials refused to respond to his concerns about “blindly rushing lethal arms to Israel while the people of Gaza face obliteration,” he said in a posting on LinkedIn.

Read more:

Obama warns Israel that actions in Gaza may cause long-term consequences

Biden stresses Hamas must release all hostages before Gaza ceasefire talks

Israel expands areas of targets in Gaza, killing 50 in last hour: Health ministry

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