© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute
Palestine Rally
On a call with Netanyahu, Biden denounced the strikes on humanitarian aid workers and emphasized the need for Israel to “announce and implement a series of specific, concrete and measurable steps to address civilian harm.” Jose Luis Magana/AP

Arab American Leaders Cautiously Eye Biden’s New Israel Comments

“‘Conditioning aid’ is a beginning, but let’s see if it really makes a difference,” said Warren David, president of the Arab America Foundation.

Leaders in the Arab American community haven’t wavered in their anger at how President Joe Biden has handled the conflict in Gaza, but say his comments to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday — that U.S. policy toward Israel could be conditional and a temporary “immediate cease-fire” was “essential” — signaled a much-needed shift for them.

Biden’s changes in posture toward Netanyahu were “definitely steps in the right direction” that could improve strained relations with the Arab American community, said Dr. Hanna Hanania, former president of the American Federation of Ramallah Palestine who now serves as co-chair of the government affairs committee for the group.

“The administration[’s] language is improving daily,” he told NOTUS.

Biden spoke to Netanyahu following Israeli strikes earlier this week on a convoy of vehicles that killed seven aid volunteers from World Central Kitchen, founded by famed chef José Andrés, sparking global outrage.

“It may be that the WCK disaster is a turning point,” Warren David, president of the Arab America Foundation, told NOTUS in a text. “‘Conditioning aid’ is a beginning, but let’s see if it really makes a difference.”

On the call, Biden denounced the strikes on humanitarian aid workers and emphasized the need for Israel to “announce and implement a series of specific, concrete and measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering and the safety of aid workers,” according to a White House readout.

However, in Hanania’s view, Biden still hasn’t done enough, and other leaders said actions will ultimately matter.

“It makes no sense if he calls for [a] cease-fire while still supplying ammunition and new weapon deals,” he said.

Dr. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, told NOTUS that Biden’s latest comments are a sign that “he’s catching the drift that he has an electoral problem.” But he doubts whether Biden is really attuned to his policy shortcomings.

“All that hesitance stuff just doesn’t cut it at this point,” he said.

“Biden and Netanyahu have been playing good cop, [bad] cop with Palestinian lives. Start with a [permanent] cease-fire now,” Khalid Turaani, who’s encouraging Michigan voters to completely abandon Biden at the ballot box in November.

Leaders also acknowledged that Biden’s statements won’t necessarily thaw existing tensions. In fact, they said Arab Americans may feel more alienated because it took the WCK incident — that included citizens from the U.S., the U.K. and Poland — for Biden to express such overt sympathy for lives lost in the war, compared to over 30,000 Palestinians who’ve died at this point.

“The world just really doesn’t seem to care when it’s Black and brown bodies that are being attacked and being targeted, and being murdered,” said Layla Elabed, one of the leaders of Listen to Michigan, a grassroots organization whose efforts turned out over 100,000 uncommitted votes in the Democratic primaries.

Biden’s “racism is showing,” she added.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.


Sign up for daily updates from NOTUS.


Biden needs to call for a permanent cease-fire so that he and the Arab American community can move forward, the leaders said.

“He needs to recognize that he’s got a policy problem that the policy has to change to make a difference in people’s lives,” said Zogby. “And until that happens, I don’t have much more to say.”

Correction: This story has been updated to correct Dr. Hanna Hanania’s title with the American Federation of Ramallah Palestine.


Tinashe Chingarande is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.