Seeking cease-fire in Gaza, Michigan Muslims and Arab American leaders have heated meetings with Biden administration
The groups said "real action" would be needed for future meetings to take place.
The Biden administration held three separate heated meetings with Muslim and Arab American community leaders in Dearborn, Michigan, on Thursday -- an effort to repair ties with a community that has been very critical of President Joe Biden's role in Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza.
Deputy Wayne County Executive Assad Turfe was among those in attendance at the controversial meetings and said he -- along with other attendees -- wanted to push for a cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas.
"In our pivotal meeting with White House officials, I stood together with other leaders from the Arab American and Muslim community in unwavering determination, pressing for an immediate and irrevocable ceasefire," Turfe said in a statement to ABC News.
The meetings, which were described as heated by those in the room, included Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, as well as members of the Muslim and Arab American communities. According to a source, the administration was there to listen and acknowledge mistakes they had made in handling the conflict, though the mayors and members of the communities proposed no plans of actions other than a cease-fire.
"We want to give them the space to have a meeting that certainly has candor," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Thursday. "We want to hear directly from them. We want to hear their concerns. We believe it's important for these leaders to be able to speak directly to officials in the White House."
Hamas, which the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization, launched a surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7. More than 27,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched a counter-offensive, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. In Israel, at least 1,200 people have been killed by Hamas and other Palestinian militants since Oct. 7, according to Israeli officials.
Dozens of protesters gathered outside the meeting space in Dearborn, dismayed that the meeting took place without any action toward a cease-fire.
Several members of the community who had been invited, such as Michigan state Rep. Alabas Farhat, declined to attend.
Though Michigan includes notable Muslim and Arab communities, Biden did not meet with leaders there last week when he made his first visit to the swing state since the war began.
Turfe canceled a meeting he had scheduled with Biden-Harris campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez last month because of protests from the community. He attended one of the meetings despite dozens of calls he says he received urging him not to attend.
"It's critical to understand that our decision to engage in dialogue with the administration was not taken lightly," Turfe said. "We entered this conversation because of the necessity for our voices to be heard. Our community's pain must be acknowledged. This was about ensuring the administration sees the real impact of its policies, not just on foreign soil but right here, affecting our people, our families."
National Executive Director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Abed Ayoub said he feels that the meetings were "poorly planned and executed." He told ABC News that meetings would not be enough for this community -- they would need to see action.
"The demands have been made clear since October," Ayoub said. "There's no point in meetings until we see action from the administration. And anybody that thinks otherwise, or anybody planning to coordinate otherwise, is handling it the wrong way."
Biden rebuked Israel in strong terms Thursday evening when he told reporters Israel's response in Gaza has been "over the top." Biden advocated for a hostage deal that could lead to a long-term pause in fighting before noting the loss of lives and treatment of Palestinians has "got to stop."
"I'm of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in Gaza -- in the Gaza Strip -- has been over the top," Biden said. "I've been working tirelessly on this deal -- how can I say this without revealing -- to lead to a sustained pause in the fighting, in the actions taking place in the Gaza Strip. And because I think if we can get the delay for that, an initial delay, I think that we would be able to extend that, so that we can increase the prospect that this fighting in Gaza changes."
As their demands for a cease-fire grow, some groups in the Michigan Muslim and Arab American communities are actively campaigning against Biden in the pivotal battleground state for the upcoming 2024 election.
On Wednesday, activists launched the "Listen to Michigan" campaign as they actively try to encourage members of the community to vote "uncommitted" in Michigan's Feb. 27 Democratic primary.
The campaign, which is being led by Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib's sister, Layla Elabed, was inspired by former President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign after he withdrew his name from the primary when the Democratic National Committee sanctioned Michigan for holding its primary out of order. That year, nearly 240,000 Michiganders voted "uncommitted" in support of Obama. Biden only narrowly won the state in 2020 by some 150,000 votes.
"We made it clear that any future engagement with the administration is conditional upon real action," said Turfe. "The developments in Gaza will serve as the benchmark for evaluating the effectiveness of the administration's actions. The Biden administration must act swiftly and decisively to end this violence, honoring the principles of justice and human rights."
ABC News' Cheyenne Haslett contributed to this report.
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