US President Joe Biden met Thursday with a small group of Muslim American leaders at the White House, two sources familiar with the meeting said, as the president comes under criticism from the community for not doing more to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
The meeting was expected to focus in part on efforts to combat Islamophobia, one of the sources said. Biden has denounced Islamophobia, including during a primetime address last week.
The White House did not comment on the meeting.
Some background: Biden and the administration have faced harsh criticism from Muslim Americans for his handling of the crisis in the Middle East, including on efforts to get US citizens out of Gaza and on preventing civilian deaths.
During a news conference Wednesday, Biden said he had “no confidence” in death figures provided by the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health in Gaza.
“I have no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people are killed,” he said. “I’m sure innocents have been killed, and it’s a price of waging war,” Biden added.
A day later, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby acknowledged thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed during Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, telling reporters, “We absolutely know that the death toll continues to rise in Gaza, of course we know that — but what we’re saying is that we shouldn’t rely on numbers put forth by Hamas and the Ministry of Health.”
He also pushed back against charges, including from the Council on American–Islamic Relations, that Biden’s comments on civilian deaths in Gaza were insensitive and harsh.
“What’s harsh is the way Hamas is using people as human shields, what’s harsh is taking a couple of hundred hostages and leaving families anxious, waiting and worrying to figure out where their loved ones are. What’s harsh is dropping in on a music festival and slaughtering a bunch of young people just trying to enjoy an afternoon — I could go on and on, that’s what’s harsh,” Kirby said. “And being honest about the fact that there have been civilian casualties, and that there likely will be more, is being honest, because that’s what war is, it’s brutal, it’s ugly, it’s messy.”
CNN’s DJ Judd contributed reporting to this post.