By AAMER MADHANI, SEUNG MIN KIM and ZEKE MILLER
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s administration is preparing to announce that it will develop a national strategy to combat Islamophobia, according to people briefed on the matter, as it faces skepticism from many in the Muslim American community for its staunch support of Israel’s military assault on Hamas in Gaza.
The White House announcement had originally been expected to come week when Biden held a meeting with Muslim leaders, but was delayed, three people said. Two of them said the delay was due in part to concerns from the Muslim American community that the administration lacked credibility on the issue given its robust support for Israel’s military, whose strikes against Hamas militants have also killed thousands of civilians in Gaza. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the White House plans.
The launch of the anti-Islamophobia strategy has been anticipated for months, after the administration in May released a national strategy to combat antisemitism that also made passing reference to countering hatred against Muslims. The formal strategy is expected to take many months to formalize, following a similar process as the plan to counter antisemitism involving various government agencies.
Incidences of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim hate have skyrocketed in the U.S. and abroad since the surprise Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants on Israel that killed over 1,400 and saw hundreds taken hostage, and Israel’s response in Gaza, where it has pledged to use force to “destroy” Hamas. One of the most prominent attacks was the killing of 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume and the wounding of his mother in an attack prosecutors allege was driven by Islamophobia.
“This horrific act of hate has no place in America and stands against our fundamental values: freedom from fear for how we pray, what we believe, and who we are,” Biden said in the aftermath of the attack.
There had been widespread agreement among the Muslim American community on the need for a national strategy to counter Islamophobia, according to a fourth person familiar with the matter, who added that the Israel-Hamas war has made the timing of the White House announcement more complicated. The person, who was also not authorized to speak publicly, said the Biden administration wants to keep the two issues separate, while some prominent Muslim American groups see them as interrelated.
Biden administration officials, during a meeting with a small group of faith leaders last week, indicated that things were “in the works” for an anti-Islamophobia strategy, said Rami Nashashibi, the founder of the Inner City Muslim Action Network in Chicago and a participant in the meeting. The officials indicated that they would be meeting with additional stakeholders from the community in coming days and weeks.
Nashashibi said he believed such an effort would be “dead on arrival” with the Muslim community until the president and administration officials forcefully condemn members of the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who have openly called for the eradication of Palestinians from Gaza and until the administration more aggressively calls out hate crimes targeting Muslims and Arab Americans.
He and other leaders also want the president to apologize, or at least publicly clarify, his recent comments in which he said he had “no confidence” in the Palestinian death count from Israel’s retaliatory strikes, because the data comes from the Hamas-run Health Ministry.
The United Nations and other international institutions and experts, as well as Palestinian authorities in the West Bank — rivals of Hamas — say the Gaza ministry has long made a good-faith effort to account for the dead under the most difficult conditions. In previous wars, the ministry’s counts have held up to U.N. scrutiny, independent investigations and even Israel’s tallies.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday the Biden administration is “not taking the Ministry of Health at face value” but acknowledged that have been “many thousands of civilian deaths in Gaza” in the conflict.
Nashashibi also said that the White House strategy could land flat at a moment when many in the community feel that advocacy for Palestinian self-determination is being unfairly lumped in with those espousing antisemitism and backing of extremists.
“That conflating is in great part contributing to an atmosphere where we could see even more deadly results and more targeting,” he said. Nashashibi added, “The White House does not have the credibility to roll out an Islamophobia strategy at this moment without publicly addressing the points we explicitly raised with the president during our meeting.”