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Prominent Illinois Arab, Muslim groups reject Biden meeting request over Gaza war

CHICAGO: Arab- and Muslim-American community leaders and elected officials angry over US policies on Gaza rejected a meeting proposed by President Joe Biden that was scheduled for Thursday in Chicago.

The leaders of at least 29 Arab and Muslim organizations, and several individual activists, signed a letter rejecting the request to meet Biden’s aides, saying: “There is no point in more meetings.”Biden has come under intense criticism for supporting Israel’s invasion of Gaza, which has killed more than 31,000 Palestinians.

Recent elections in several swing states with large numbers of Arab and Muslim voters, where Biden narrowly defeated former President Donald Trump, showed significant opposition and made the urgency of the meeting apparent. Illinois voters go to the polls on Tuesday to vote in presidential primary elections.

Community leaders interviewed by Arab News were adamant against meeting with Biden’s aides, citing his vetoes of ceasefire resolutions at the UN Security Council.

“Our stance is clear: Until President Biden and his team advocate for an immediate ceasefire and the unrestricted flow of aid into Gaza, any meeting would merely serve as a photo opportunity,” said Yousif Zegar, spokesman for Orland United for Civic Responsibility.

Orland United activists are protesting what they say are racist and xenophobic comments made by Keith Pekau, mayor of the Chicago suburb of Orland Park.

In response to a ceasefire request signed by more than 800 residents, Pekau told them to “go to another country” if they “want to fight.”

Although Biden met with Arab and Muslim activists in October 2023 to express concerns over mounting civilian casualties in Gaza, he has provided more than $32 billion in funding and weapons to Israel.

And his UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield has vetoed three UNSC resolutions calling for humanitarian ceasefires.

Tarek Khalil, a board member of the Chicago chapter of American Muslims for Palestine, said Biden’s actions over the past five months overshadow his expressions of compassion.

“His policy has been dismally disappointing,” Khalil said, adding that Biden “has been complicit” in Israel’s invasion “with 31,000 killed so far and approximately 13,000 being children. Seventy percent of the civilian infrastructure is destroyed. Only 14 of the 36 hospitals in Gaza are partially functional. The remaining aren’t functional at all. Ninety-seven percent of the water is unfit for human consumption.”

He said: “This is all brought about by Israel’s genocide with our tax dollars, the diplomatic policies at the UN and US-made weapons. Biden’s policy has been abysmal.”

Khalil added that the Illinois community is in line with national groups in demanding “an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza, not a temporary one. You can’t grab an axe in one hand and band aids in the other and claim to be doing something good.

“So what’s the point of having a meeting? The discussion period has ended. The bare minimum is a complete and permanent ceasefire.”

Illinois is not a swing state in the presidential election in November. Biden defeated Trump easily in Illinois four years ago, taking 57.5 percent of the state’s vote.

The solidarity of Arabs and Muslims in Illinois to challenge Biden’s reelection reflects the growing influence of the #AbandonBiden coalition.

The group has undermined Biden’s performance in primary elections in several key swing states including Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Georgia and Washington State.

“The White House already knows the position of the aforementioned groups and our allies across the nation. They know because we’ve made it abundantly clear, including in prior meetings with the White House, but also in press statements, letters to our elected leaders, media interviews, and enormous street action within earshot of the Oval Office,” said Ahmad Rehab, spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations in Illinois.

“With a genocide that has flattened Gaza, forcibly displacing 85 percent of its residents and claiming the lives of 31,000 people, 13,000 of whom are children, the White House has not only refused to call for a ceasefire, but also enabled this blatant campaign of ethnic cleansing to take place by providing financial and military means, as well as diplomatic support at the UN. A meeting of the minds is nowhere in sight.”

Illinois State Representative Abdelnasser Rashid, who did not respond to an Arab News request for comment, told Politico recently that he met with Tom Perez, White House director of intergovernmental affairs, in October “and there have been many other meetings … There’s nothing new to be said. We need an immediate and permanent ceasefire. And we need the United States to stop supplying arms to Israel.”

Arab and Muslim leaders who were invited to attend the closed-door meeting said they understood it would include several senior White House aides.

Among those expected were Perez, White House director of public engagement Steve Benjamin, White House liaison to American-Muslim communities Mazen Basrawi, and National Security Council Chief of Staff Curtis Ried. None responded to Arab News requests for comment.

The White House did not issue a statement on the proposed meeting, so it is not known if it took place with some Arab or Muslim leaders from Illinois.

Upon his election, Biden appointed more than 20 Arab Americans to key White House and State Department positions, but all have reportedly been discouraged from making public statements on Arab-Israeli issues.

Arab News requests for comment from Biden’s meeting team and his campaign director for rapid response, Ammar Moussa, went unanswered.

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