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Israel-Palestine war: Biden’s PR meetings will not appease Muslim Americans over Gaza genocide

Joe Biden's closed-door meeting with a select group of US Muslim leaders with pro-Israel ties will not placate community members outraged by his brazen support for Israel's genocidal war on Gaza
Protesters demonstrate against US support for the Israeli military assault on Gaza during a rally in front of the White House on 20 October 2023 (AFP)
Protesters demonstrate against US support for the Israeli military assault on Gaza during a rally in front of the White House on 20 October 2023 (AFP)

Since 7 October, US Democrats, who courted Muslim votes in 2020, have given Israel carte blanche for the mass murder, or democide, of Palestinians.

Muslims around the world, who once saw President Joe Biden as a welcome change after the Trump administration's racist Muslim Ban, have instead watched him earn the trending nickname, Genocide Joe. Some have even argued that in his "unwavering support" for Israel's relentless bombing of Gaza and "fascist dehumanisation" of Palestinians, Biden has surpassed Donald Trump.

In the wake of Israel’s collective punishment of Gaza, a grave violation of international law that has claimed more than 9,000 lives, the majority of whom are women and children, an unsettling dissonance echoes not just in the Middle East where millions have taken to the streets to demand a ceasefire, but also across the Atlantic.

For Muslim Americans, the US government's role as an active partner in Israel's genocidal war on Gaza and its denial of water, food and medicine to 2.3 million Palestinians, half of them children, reminds them of their ever-present vulnerability and the widening disconnect with the very White House administration they helped bring to power.

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After casting decisive votes for Biden in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona, many Muslim Americans anticipated a new dawn of inclusivity and respect despite their better judgement. Instead, they were relegated to the periphery and still living in the shadow of 9/11.

The Biden administration’s adoption of Trump-era border policies and its recent conflation of Palestinian student groups with terrorists have also significantly damaged future engagement with these constituencies. 

But as they continue to witness in horror the Democratic Party's transformation into the Democide Party, growing numbers of betrayed Muslim voters have declared that they will not support Biden in 2024.

'Ironclad' support

The classic dilemma - whether the Democrats should historically align with the confederacy or the abolitionist movement - remains as pertinent today as it was in 1860, only this time the choice is whether to align with an apartheid state reviled in much of the Muslim world (and Global South) or surrender to the power of the pro-Israel lobby groups and its patrons in Congress.

During the 1960s, student activism and pressure on Capitol Hill turned the tide of public opinion against the Vietnam War but then handed a victory to Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon. Now disgruntled protesters are confronting elected officials, including Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman, who barely so much as blink at the staggering death toll of Palestinians.

Why is there intense reluctance to condition military aid to Israel on human rights compliance?

Follow Middle East Eye's live coverage for the latest on the Israel-Palestine war

Why must the Biden administration fall all over itself to declare its “ironclad” support for Israel, a pariah state notorious for what Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and B'Tselem describe as apartheid policies: walls and segregated roads, demolitions of Palestinian homes, settlement expansion, and indefinite detention and torture?

Palestinian and Muslim Americans need concrete action from President Biden in the form of an immediate move to halt the ongoing genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Instead, the White House offers empty words, or worse - Biden’s parroting of atrocious Israeli lies and justification of its war crimes.

Palestinian and Muslim Americans need action from President Biden in the form of immediate moves to halt the genocide in Palestine

From the early post-9/11 days - as many of us navigated the terrain as students - to now as activist moms, the landscape for Muslim Americans has been turbulent. Yet the bold defiance of students from coast to coast and around the globe against unjust policies, from the University of South Florida to Harvard University, shines.

The gauntlet has been thrown down for a new anti-war movement demanding a break from the status quo. History will remember us by our deeds, and we need to decide if we want to be catalysts for change or mere bystanders to secure a ceasefire for the children of Gaza.

President Biden needs to listen to Palestinian voices, the leaders on the frontlines of Palestinian solidarity movements in the US. He must include Palestinian Christian voices in policy-making decisions as well. These voices must be centred along with dissenting, anti-Zionist Jewish voices.

The horrendous atrocities in Gaza are worsening by the hour. The spectre of regional escalation looms large, and mere condolences or detached grief are more infuriating. Peace, fragile yet invaluable, deserves more than just a chance - it requires concerted, genuine diplomacy, not tokenism.

Closed-door meetings

These feelings of erasure were compounded when five Muslim community leaders were hand-picked for a secret meeting with Biden last week on the current Middle East crisis. Among them was a single Palestinian representative, organiser Rami Nashashibi, who is based in Chicago, where the 2024 Democratic National Convention (DNC) will be held.

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The others included Emgage CEO Wa'el Alzayat, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, Imam Mohamed Magid, and Dr Suzanne Barakat. They participated in a conversation so clandestine that its actual details were shrouded until other Palestinian and Muslim organisers demanded details. Since a meeting with the president requires a Secret Service security clearance, those who previously met with him were more likely to be vetted and approved.

As reported in Middle East Eye, the Biden administration refused to meet with Muslim Americans who were publicly critical of his Gaza stance. Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian American, has been a vocal critic of Biden's Israel policy, from his support for its ongoing bombardment of Gaza and refusal to demand a ceasefire to his acceptance of Israel into the US visa waiver programme in September, despite its discriminatory practices. In August 2019, Tlaib herself was infamously denied entry by Israel to visit her grandmother in the occupied West Bank.

During last week's meeting, the details of which the five Muslim leaders were instructed not to share publicly - and to which they dutifully obliged - Biden reportedly "appeared sympathetic and receptive to their concerns but didn’t make any commitments around a ceasefire".

Yet his hollow sentiments - expressed in private - seemed enough for the White House and the select few to wage a soft public relations campaign. In an NPR interview, Nashashibi described how the group was "pleasantly surprised by the president's ability to absorb the very direct criticism." Another representative attempted to clarify Biden's shameful remarks casting doubt on the Palestinian death toll.

Rather than stress the urgency of the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, the meeting's intent to "soften the blowback" from Muslim communities was quickly revealed. A Wall Street Journal article examined how these key constituencies could threaten Biden's re-election bid. While peddling Israeli propaganda and justifying its genocidal war, The New York Times also managed to promote Emgage’s electoral racket as a fluff piece about the 2024 elections.

Who gets a seat

On Tuesday, the Shia Muslim Foundation, based in the Washington, DC metro area, announced that its executive director, Rahat Husain, participated in another White House meeting with "key figures from the Biden administration".

Community members who are familiar with details of the meeting relayed that not a single member of the Muslim delegation was Palestinian. In addition, at least three of the participants are board members of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, a Zionist normalisation project established by the pro-Israel American Jewish Committee, whose history of peddling anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian propaganda is well-documented.

The secret meeting has reportedly angered Palestinian Americans who say their exclusion from these discussions demonstrates that the Biden administration has no interest in - or respect for - the community. Given their questionable ties, it further raised questions about what kind of Muslims are given "a seat at the table".

One of the Biden administration representatives who was present at both meetings, Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain recently condemned the “terrorist attacks” on 7 October as “barbaric” and “inhumane” but had no such descriptors for Israel’s barbaric, inhumane, and genocidal assault on the Palestinians.

While he gave an obligatory nod to Palestinian suffering, referencing the “devastating images” of Gaza, Hussain’s words left one wondering who or what caused the collapse of those homes and buildings. Perhaps the Palestinians were hit by an earthquake.

Hussain, who mentions his visit to al-Aqsa Mosque earlier this year, and is allegedly tasked with defending “international religious freedom”, has had very little to say about the constant threat that the status of al-Aqsa has been under since the election of Israel's far-right government. 

He also does not seem to be concerned by the regular incursions by Israeli forces and fanatical settlers that Palestinian worshippers suffer at the third holiest Muslim site. These violent attacks on religious sites are a violation of international law, but like most crimes of the Israeli occupation, are ignored.

White House convening
Participants gather at the White House for a convening to counter Islamophobia hosted by Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, seated second to left, on 4 May 2023 (White House)

In May, the White House held another futile meeting hosted by Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, with a similar group of Muslim leaders. Participants in the "listening session" on how to "counter Islamophobia" included senior policymakers like Susan Rice.

The Muslim leaders' current path is at odds with the community, which demands that US officials force a ceasefire, not engage them in tone-deaf partisan politics that are allowing democide

As these gatherings deliberately ignore the most insidious expressions of Islamophobia, such as those practised at the highest levels of government that have long declared Islam as the enemy, they are no more than choreographed productions that are devoid of any substance or actionable outcomes.

Like White House iftars or Eid parties, such self-important gatherings have long served to whitewash post-9/11 abuses against Muslims and reward obedience and "loyalty" to the state among those "Good Muslims" who are not truly connected, or accountable, to the communities they claim to represent.

The Muslim-American organisations represented at these White House gatherings have for years faced intra-community criticism for their known affiliations with controversial agendas, both Israeli and US military-centric.

These organisations, all too willing to go along to get along, have sown deep seeds of mistrust, especially as a result of their support of targeted policing in Muslim and Arab communities.

Damage control

This week, the White House has been engaging in full damage control, while also beating the drums of war for Israel.

The Democratic Party, which once showed promise of a progressive surge, is losing its sheen even among its most ardent supporters. Muslim staffers and political enthusiasts, despite their grassroots mobilisation and engagement, are increasingly silenced.

Just one day after the press secretary shamefully compared peaceful Palestine solidarity protests to the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, the White House conveniently announced on Wednesday its vague plans to work on a "national strategy to combat Islamophobia".

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Yet such pronouncements could not even inspire hope in Palestinian-Americans like Nashashibi, who rightly expressed scepticism and criticised Biden's questioning of the Palestinian death toll. It is unclear if Nashashibi will be invited back to the White House. 

Biden cannot placate our communities with superficial offers of domestic policy in return for our silence or dilution of foreign policy demands vis-a-vis Muslim, Arab and Palestinian issues. As the mainstream narrative sidesteps these urgent issues, a fresh wave of activists has grown disillusioned with Biden's disregard for their demands and the party’s tokenism.

Their concerns and demands, particularly when it comes to the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Gaza, are in line with the majority of American voters, 66 percent of whom support a ceasefire, along with 80 percent of Democratic voters.

The 2024 Chicago DNC threatens to become a powder keg of protest, drawing parallels with the anti-war Vietnam protests that rocked the 1968 DNC Convention in Chicago.

The days of employing stock phrases to win Muslim votes are over, inshallah.

Today, the role of some Muslim-American organisations, which are supposed to be the vanguard of community sentiments, are under the scanner. Their affiliations with the Pentagon and surveillance agencies along with the meek activism of leaders - coupled with glitzy fundraising galas and red carpet events - could never bolster Muslim empowerment but only continue their role as tokenised gatekeepers.

Until these entities address the valid criticisms directed at them, their credibility remains in question.

Given this backdrop, how can these problematic organisations, let alone closed-door meetings, represent the interests of Muslim Americans?

Their current path is at odds with the overarching sentiment within the community, which demands that US officials force a ceasefire, not engage them in tone-deaf partisan politics that are allowing democide in our name.

By November 2024, Gaza could be completely wiped out - with US-made bombs - and our community’s self-effacing normalisers will be consumed with election data to prove their usefulness to the Democratic (Democide) Party.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Nadia Ahmad is a member of the Democratic National Committee. She is a law professor based in Orlando and a Fellow at the Center for Security, Race, and Rights.
Saleema Gul is a Houston-based activist, who has organised for over two decades on social justice and human rights issues locally and globally.
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