Biden to host Muslim leaders at White House followed by scaled-down iftar dinner


(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden will host a group of Muslim leaders Tuesday evening to discuss “issues of importance to the community,” the White House said, as he faced growing criticism over his response to Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

The White House meeting, behind closed doors, will be followed by a small iftar dinner to mark the end of the daily fast during Ramadan with Muslim administration staffers but not with the community leaders.

“He will be joined by Vice President Harris, senior Muslim administration officials and senior members of his national security team,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters about the meeting.

“And to continue the White House tradition of honoring Ramadan, as he did just last month, after the meeting, we will host a small breaking of the fast, prayer and iftar with a number of senior Muslim administration officials,” she added.

The events are a very scaled-down gathering to mark Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month, compared to previous years, when the president would host hundreds for a reception and deliver remarks in front of guests and the press.

Neither the meeting with Muslim community leaders nor the iftar dinner were on Biden’s public schedule.

They are also taking place as tensions remain high between the administration and the Arab American and Muslim communities over Biden’s support for Israel in its fight against Hamas as the war in Gaza approaches the six-month mark after Hamas launched a surprise terror attack on Israel on Oct. 7. More than 1,200 people were killed in that attack, according to Israeli officials.

On Tuesday, Biden is facing another protest vote in Wisconsin, where groups are organizing people to cast their ballot for “uninstructed” in the Democratic primary rather than for Biden. Similar campaigns in protest over the war have unfolded in Michigan and Minnesota.

Both the Biden-Harris campaign and the administration have ramped up outreach to these communities in recent months. One of those efforts, a meeting Biden campaign officials had planned in Michigan ahead of the primary, was rebuffed as local Arab American and Muslim leaders canceled.

Jean-Pierre said the gathering of Muslim leaders at the White House is seen as a “working group meeting” and was decided to be done privately at the “request from members of the community.”

“They thought it would be important to do that and so we did that,” she said. “We listened, we heard, and we adjusted the format to be responsive and so that we can get feedback from them. … This is what they wanted, and we understand that.”

Last month, Biden marked the start of Ramadan by reflecting on the Israel-Hamas war and the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, most of them civilians, including thousands of children,” he said. “Some are family members of American Muslims, who are deeply grieving their lost loved ones today. Nearly two million Palestinians have been displaced by the war; many are in urgent need of food, water, medicine, and shelter.”

“As Muslims gather around the world over the coming days and weeks to break their fast, the suffering of the Palestinian people will be front of mind for many,” he continued. “It is front of mind for me.”

ABC News’ Alexandra Hutzler contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.