Muslim leaders urged President Joe Biden to back a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas during a closed-door White House meeting and criticized him over comments he made this week about the Palestinian death count, according to three people who attended.
The private discussion, which included a small group of civic, elected, and religious officials, took place amid growing fury in Muslim and Arab American communities over how Biden has handled the Israel-Hamas war.
As reported by Politico on Friday, October 27, the Muslim leaders told Biden and his aides that they were deeply concerned about a comment the president made this week at a news conference when he expressed “no confidence” in the death toll statistics provided by Palestinian officials, the three attendants told POLITICO.
Hamas, a militant group that is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, launched a surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7 that, according to Israeli authorities, killed more than 1,400 people.
The United Nations and World Health Organization have said the Hamas-controlled health ministry’s numbers are nonetheless broadly accurate.
Upwards of 7,000 people in Gaza have died in retaliatory attacks by Israel, according to those figures by Palestinian officials.
Rami Nashashibi, a MacArthur fellow and founder of the Inner City Muslim Action Network, attended the meeting and said he “very explicitly” talked to Biden about his remarks on the death count.
According to a person familiar with the conversation, Biden told the Muslim leaders his comments were about Hamas not being reliable and not meant to minimize the deaths.
While Biden offered unqualified support for Israel in the immediate aftermath of Hamas’ rampage, he has sought to show more compassion toward Palestinian civilians in recent days.
His aides have also spoken favorably about a humanitarian “pause” in the war to allow food, water, and medicine into Gaza.
But Muslim leaders at the meeting on Thursday made it obvious they believed those efforts did not go far enough.
They argued that the rhetoric from Biden, his aides, and others in government has fed into Islamophobia, the people said.
They pushed Biden and his staff to show more empathy toward Palestinians and get behind a cease-fire.
The Biden administration has rejected calls for a cease-fire, arguing Israel has a right to defend itself,
“The participants were very clear, very forthright in calling for a cease-fire, telling the president that this is a matter of saving lives and also avoiding escalation,” said the second person in attendance.
“More violence is not going to solve this problem. All it’s going to do is kill more people” the individual added.
The Biden team has been ramping up outreach to Arab and Muslim Americans in recent days, including with outside community leaders like those at Thursday’s meeting as well as within its administration.
Biden also personally pushed Israel during his meeting there to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.
In a speech he delivered last week, Biden condemned Islamophobia and sounded a note of inclusion toward Palestinians.