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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media in Israel. Evelyn Hockstein/AP

Arab American Leaders Say Their Private Meeting With Blinken Was a Failure

A Friday night meeting between Arab American leaders and Secretary of State Antony Blinken left leaders more than unsatisfied.

Following a Friday night meeting between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Arab American leaders, attendees of the sit-down had a simple message: enough.

“In Arabic, we say ‘khallas,’” Warren David, president of Arab America, told NOTUS, using the Arabic word that translates to finished, enough or done.

David was one of almost a dozen representatives from six Arab American organizations who attended the meeting. And he told NOTUS there doesn’t appear to be anything the Biden administration could do at this point to salvage its fractured relationship with the Arab American community.

Leaders of the community once again presented Blinken with a comprehensive list of policy demands Friday night, which they loosely call the “Arab American Agenda.”

The demands — an immediate and permanent cease-fire, the return of all hostages, complete withdrawal of Israeli military forces from Gaza and an unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance to Palestinians — aren’t new. The agenda has been a rallying cry for the community for months as the United States continues to back Israel’s retaliatory military campaign against Hamas.

But Arab American leaders didn’t get much in the way of promises from Blinken Friday night.

While the meeting at the State Department went well past the 45 minutes it was originally planned for, sources familiar with the sit-down told NOTUS the Arab American leaders left unsatisfied.

“He said, ‘Thank you, I understand where you’re coming from,’” David said of Blinken’s response to requests from the leaders. “He just kind of left it at, he will, you know, take into consideration what we said.”

A source familiar with the meeting, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive details, told NOTUS Blinken listened carefully as each participant made their points before delivering a five- to seven-minute response that was light on promises and heavy on generalities. Blinken said his “favorite approach” for reaching a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel was for Hamas to release its hostages and “get a cease-fire on that end.”

“He said that’s really the only option at this point,” this source told NOTUS. “He knows exactly how to control the discussion. For every point, he was trying to explain why they do it that way and they haven’t done it differently.”

Biden Mideast Tensions
President Joe Biden and Secretary Antony Blinken receive an update on an ongoing airborne attack on Israel from Iran, as they meet in the Situation Room. Adam Schultz/The White House via AP

In a stern press release after the meeting, Arab American leaders took turns rebuking U.S. policies and the Biden administration.

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, noted that when leaders met with Blinken in October 2023, Israel’s bombing of Gaza had already killed 5,000 Palestinians. “We come back seven months later with over 36,000 dead, most of Gaza’s homes and infrastructure destroyed, millions of Palestinian lives shattered and Gaza on the verge of starvation,” Zogby said in the statement.

John Dabeet, president of the U.S. Palestinian Council, said tough decisions require tough leadership.

“We asked Secretary Blinken and the administration to subject any military assistance to Israel to strict oversight to ensure that it is fully compliant with U.S. law, international law and human rights conventions,” he said in the statement.

Bilal Hammoud, director of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce who attended Friday’s meeting, told NOTUS he had “built decades of relationships and put thousands of hours into supporting a candidate who made promises along the campaign trail that weren’t fulfilled.” He said his community had the “right to be frustrated.”

“How can you feel as though, when you have a meeting with someone, that respect is being given and not just taken?” he asked.

The Biden administration has tried to hear Arab American leaders out since Israel began bombings in Gaza in response to the Oct. 7 attacks. A senior White House official told NOTUS in February that people were “frustrated and emotional” following private meetings hosted by the president and other senior officials that month. In April, Biden threatened to condition military aid to Israel for obstructing humanitarian aid. And in May, Biden blocked some munitions to Israel in response to Israel entering Rafah, a southern part of Gaza.

Biden’s decision to block some munitions to Israel prompted House Republicans — and some Democrats — to rebuke him this week with legislation mandating that all congressionally approved aid be released to Israel.

But Arab American leaders don’t feel the president is doing nearly enough. For some, the Blinken meeting was the final straw on U.S.-Israel policy.

“It was the last chance,” the source familiar with the meeting said. “We did our part, we presented our issues and we presented many possible ways.”

Asked if they could see a path toward supporting Biden — and urging their communities to support Biden — come Election Day, the answers were bleak for the president.

“I’m done. I think that’s it,” David said. “I’m a double hater right now. I can’t vote for Biden.”

The source who spoke to NOTUS anonymously said they now planned to support third-party candidate Cornel West. “It would be my first time not voting for a Democrat in decades,” this person said.

And Hammoud had an ominous warning.

“When November comes, we’ll remember,” he said.

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