U.S. President Joe Biden

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to a crowd on January 27, 2024 in Columbia, South Carolina.

(Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

In 'Tense' Meeting, Arab Leaders in Michigan Warn White House to Change Course on Gaza

"If President Biden wants a shot here in Michigan, he's going to need to do something different," said one leader.

A week after Arab American and Muslim leaders in Michigan refused a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden's campaign over the White House's continued support for Israel's bombardment of Gaza, several representatives of the community met Thursday with a group of top Biden aides—but came away unconvinced that the administration understands the stakes involved in its failure to listen to demands for a cease-fire.

"If President Biden wants a shot here in Michigan, he's going to need to do something different," Abbas Alawieh, a senior Democratic strategist and spokesperson for Listen to Michigan, a group that is urging cease-fire supporters in the state to vote "uncommitted" on primary ballots on February 27, toldHuffPost.

Alawieh's comments came after he, state Rep. Abraham Aiyash (D-4), Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, Wayne County Deputy Executive Assad Turfe, and others met with administration officials.

Alawieh told the outlet that the meeting was "very tense," with attendees informing U.S. Agency for International Development head Samantha Power and senior presidential adviser Tom Perez, among other officials, of specific demands.

The group reiterated its call for Biden to make a direct demand that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agree to a permanent cease-fire and for the U.S. to immediately reinstate funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The suspension of UNRWA funds have left the agency risking a "complete collapse" of its humanitarian response in Gaza, where at least 27,947 Palestinians have been killed by the Israel Defense Forces since October 7. More than one million displaced Palestinians have taken shelter in UNRWA shelters, where aid workers are struggling to provide food, medical care, and potable water in the face of Israel's near-total blockade.

Hammoud said on social media after the meeting that the views of Arab Americans and the majority of Democratic voters who support a cease-fire and increased aid for civilians "have not been accurately captured by mainstream media and have failed to reach the highest office in our government" over the past several months.

"This meeting was held to ensure that the White House and those with the ability to change the course of the genocide unfolding in Gaza very clearly hear and understand the demands of our community, directly from us," said Hammoud.

In the meeting, said the mayor, the local and state leaders "remained uncompromising in our values and our demands."

"As citizens of the United States of America and representatives of the city of Dearborn, we have done our duty; now it is incumbent upon the president to do the same," said Hammoud.

But the meeting adjourned without the White House aides giving assurances that Biden would do so, even though a growing number of leaders in the state—both within the Arab American and Muslim communities and outside of it—have signed on to the Listen to Michigan campaign.

By voting "uncommitted" in the primary, supporters are hoping to send an urgent message to Biden that his refusal to meet the demands of the community—and 7 in 10 Democrats in an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released last week—could be a grave miscalculation and cost him crucial votes in the general election in November.

Shadb Singh, an organizer with Listen to Michigan, reported Wednesday that the campaign appears to be taking off with voters based on the attendance of a mass mobilization call.

Biden won Michigan, a key swing state, by just 154,000 votes in 2020, and the Muslim population in the state includes 200,000 registered voters.

Last month, before Hammoud and other leaders refused to engage with Biden during his campaign stop, the president dismissed a question from a reporter about his cratering support among Arab Americans amid his backing of Israel.

"We understand who cares about the Arab population," he said, comparing himself to former President Donald Trump, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination and has easily won several primary contests so far.

Alawieh said the White House officials were "lucky to be hearing from the expertise of people harmed by the very policies the Biden administration is championing," but the attendees were skeptical that the president's team understood the risk Biden is running by assuming he has the support of Arab Americans.

"This was about ensuring the administration sees the real impact of its policies, not just on foreign soil but right here, affecting our people, our families," Turfe told HuffPost. "We made it clear that any future engagement with the administration is conditional upon real action. The developments in Gaza will serve as the benchmark for evaluating the effectiveness of the administration’s actions. The Biden administration must act swiftly and decisively to end this violence, honoring the principles of justice and human rights."

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