Biden to host Muslim leaders for scaled-down Iftar dinner amid strains over Gaza war

President invites small group of community leaders to White House to join Harris and Muslim staffers as administration seeks to ease tensions over support for Israel

File: US President Joe Biden speaks at an event in Raleigh, North Carolina, March 26, 2024. (Matt Kelley/AP)
File: US President Joe Biden speaks at an event in Raleigh, North Carolina, March 26, 2024. (Matt Kelley/AP)

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden was to host a small group of Muslim American community leaders at the White House for a meeting on Tuesday followed by a scaled-down Iftar dinner, as he seeks to relieve tensions over his administration’s staunch support for Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

Biden and US Vice President Kamala Harris will be joined by Muslim staffers in the Democratic administration and senior national security aides, a White House official said, in the most high-profile engagement yet between the White House and the Muslim American community since the war began six months ago. Staffers will then join the president for a dinner to break the fast during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan.

The White House did not immediately name the community members who would join the meeting.

For the past two years, Biden has held large receptions to mark Ramadan and Eid at the White House, but those plans were shelved this year amid the war, which began on October 7 when Palestinian terror group Hamas led a massive cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took another 253 hostages.

Israel responded with a military offensive to destroy Hamas, topple its regime in Gaza, and free the hostages, of whom 130 remain in captivity.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza claims that more than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel in the war, but the number cannot be independently verified and is believed to include both Hamas terrorists and civilians. The IDF says it has killed over 13,000 terrorists in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 who were killed inside Israel on and immediately following October 7. The IDF has lost 256 soldiers fighting in Gaza.

Efforts to secure even a temporary ceasefire deal that would have included the release of hostages before the start of Ramadan failed. Though negotiations via international mediators continue, there has been no breakthrough.

In this image taken from video, Muslim community leaders from several swing states pledge to withdraw support for US President Joe Biden on December 2, 2023, at a conference in Dearborn, Michigan, citing his refusal to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. (#AbandonBiden via AP)

White House officials previously traveled to Detroit earlier this year and faced an icy reception from Muslim American community leaders in the swing state, where more than 100,000 Democratic primary voters cast protest votes for “uncommitted” as part of an organized showing of disapproval for Biden’s posture toward the conflict.

News of Biden’s meeting was first reported by National Public Radio.

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