(WASHINGTON) — Muslim and Arab American leaders in Michigan canceled a meeting with President Joe Biden’s campaign team amid increasing opposition to his administration’s response to the Israel-Hamas war, multiple people tell ABC News.
“We’re dumbfounded,” the National Executive Director of The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Abed Ayoub, told ABC News. “Why does this administration still believe that we’re just going to be willing to meet with them with no movement on their part on our demands? And they’ve been the same demands since October, and nothing’s changed.”
Deputy Wayne County Executive Assad Turfe, who had organized the planned meeting between the campaign and the community, was the one who canceled it, a person familiar with the decision tells ABC News.
Since the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, the Biden administration has faced calls for the U.S. to support a permanent cease-fire as emphatic protests over its staunch support of Israel persist.
On Tuesday, as Biden delivered a major campaign speech in Virginia on abortion rights, he was interrupted some 14 times by pro-Palestine demonstrators chanting, “Genocide Joe,” and “Cease-fire now!”
Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez traveled to Michigan on Friday to meet with elected officials in the Detroit-area. However, initial plans were for her to meet with 10 to 15 Muslim and Arab American leaders after her staff approached them to discuss growing discontent in their community, Ayoub said.
“We are aware that she is meeting with different individuals,” Ayoub said. “It’s not a group setting … It’s upsetting that they thought they had the right to go ahead and schedule this. They don’t speak on behalf of the community.”
Several local leaders invited to meet with Rodriguez, including Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, declined to do so after pushback from the community.
“Our immediate demand is crystal clear: the Biden Administration must call for a permanent ceasefire to a genocide it is defending and funding with our tax dollars,” Hammoud, said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “Dearborn residents have tirelessly protested and organized in demand of a ceasefire. As their mayor, I follow their lead.”
Hammoud added: “I will not entertain conversations about elections while we watch a live-streamed genocide backed by our government.
Lexis Zeidan, a Palestinian-American and Dearborn resident said she was also approached by the campaign but she rejected the invite as well.
“I strongly believe that the community has mobilized effectively and strategically over the last four months that we should not be making any decisions or having any conversations without bringing our community into the fold,” said Zeidan.
Wayne County, home to Detroit and Dearborn, has the largest rate of Arab inhabitants of any other county in America, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And Michigan, a state that Biden narrowly won against Trump in 2020 and is critical in the coming election, has the largest Arab population of any battleground state.
Amid reports that Vice President Kamala Harris is privately pushing Biden that he needs to be more sympathetic towards Palestinians, multiple people also tell ABC News that Harris’s team reached out for a February meeting in D.C.
Huwaida Arraf, a civil rights attorney, says a senior adviser reached out to her from Harris’ team but Arraf immediately declined.
“We have been asking the administration to stop fueling funding enabling this genocide, and we have been stonewalled,” said Arraf. “And now because we’re getting close to the elections. And Biden isn’t doing so well in overall polls. Now they want to talk to us.”
The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Leaders of the community told ABC News the outreach is too little too late and that the only thing that will appease them is a ceasefire.
“Our position since day one has been clear: without a ceasefire on the table or call for a ceasefire, then we don’t see a purpose of meeting,” said Ayoub.
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