A deputy national security adviser to President Biden participated in a private meeting with leaders from the Arab American community in Michigan last week where he expressed regret regarding the administration’s management of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas following the tragic events of Oct. 7, according to audio recordings of the meetings obtained by The New York Times.
Jonathan Finer reportedly told Arab American leaders that he lacks trust in Israel’s government, stating he doubted their willingness to make significant strides toward achieving Palestinian statehood. He also provided some of the administration’s most unequivocal apologies for what he referred to as “missteps” it had committed since the onset of the conflict, promising future improvements.
Based on audio recordings of the meetings, Finer said that the administration is “very well aware that we have missteps in the course of responding to this crisis since October 7.”
“We have left a very damaging impression based on what has been a wholly inadequate public accounting for how much the president, the administration, and the country values the lives of Palestinians. And that began frankly pretty early in the conflict,” he added.
The Republican Jewish Coalition’s national political director, Sam Markstein, told The Foreign Desk that they are “deeply troubled by the Biden administration’s growing pressure on Israel to commit to the creation of a Palestinian state.”
“Genuine solidarity with Israel requires a clear understanding of the difficult realities confronting the people and government of the Jewish state,” Markstein said. “Today, Israel is at war against the monstrous terrorists who perpetrated the October 7, 2023 atrocities, dozens of American and Israeli hostages remain captives of Hamas, and no Palestinian faction has condemned the horror that led to the current crisis.”
Finer, alongside numerous other high-ranking officials from the Biden administration, such as Samantha Power, who serves as the head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), went to Dearborn last week for a sequence of discussions.
A week later, representatives from the Biden campaign, led by Julie Chávez Rodríguez, who manages his 2024 bid, quietly traveled to the city for meetings with several officials, among them Representative Rashida Tlaib, a progressive Palestinian American prominent in Democrat demands for a ceasefire.
“Last week, the Biden administration took a measurable turn against Israel completing the goal of defeating Hamas in Gaza. The messaging from President Biden about Israel’s response to October 7th being over-the-top, Blinken lecturing Israel about dehumanizing Palestinians as if there were some form of moral equivalence, and dispatching a team to Michigan to grovel to progressives who favor Hamas over Israel — are the latest signs that the administration’s patience is wearing thin with PM Netanyahu,” said Matthew RJ Brodsky, senior fellow at the Gold Institute for International Strategy.
Mayor Abdullah Hammoud of Dearborn and several other municipal authorities opted not to convene with Ms. Chávez Rodríguez. Mr. Hammoud articulated in a statement to The New York Times his preference to engage with decision-makers rather than campaign representatives, prompting White House officials to coordinate a visit quickly.
Finer also emphasized that establishing an official diplomatic tie between Israel and Saudi Arabia is pivotal in the journey toward forming a Palestinian state. He further remarked that achieving this goal demands challenging political concessions from all three nations involved.
“We will have to do things for Saudi Arabia that will be very unpopular in this country and in our Congress,” Finer stated. “Will Israel be willing to do the hard thing that’s going to be required of them, which is meaningful steps for the Palestinians on the question of two states? I don’t know if the answer to that is yes. I do not have any confidence in this current government of Israel,” he added.
The Deputy National Security Adviser also expressed that the Biden administration ought to have promptly denounced remarks made by certain Israeli officials, which he characterized as likening “residents of Gaza to animals.” He remarked that officials hesitated to do so due to their efforts to collaborate with the Israeli government.
“Out of a desire to sort of focus on solving the problem and not engaging in a rhetorical back-and-forth with people who, in many cases, I think we all find somewhat abhorrent, we did not sufficiently indicate that we totally rejected and disagreed with those sorts of sentiments,” Finer stated.
“In these circumstances, Israelis across the political spectrum are united behind the objectives of eradicating Hamas as a threat to Israel and securing the return of all the hostages. Until those objectives are accomplished, pressuring the Jewish state to make irreversible and potentially perilous long-term diplomatic commitments is a grave failure to live up to America’s proud history of standing with Israel against its deadly enemies,” Markstein said.
Finer also expressed regret over a declaration issued by the president in January, commemorating 100 days since the start of the conflict. The declaration centered on the predicament of American and Israeli captives detained in Gaza by Hamas. “It did not in any way address the loss of Palestinian life during the course of the first 100 days of the conflict,” Finer said. “There is no excuse for that. It should not have happened. I believe it will not happen again. But we know that there was a lot of damage done.”
Michigan residents who participated in last week’s sessions alongside representatives of the Biden administration characterized the gatherings as high-pressure and expressed dissatisfaction over the lack of firm commitments from Biden officials regarding policy adjustments.
“Much of this has to do with Democrat electoral politics because Biden is shedding voters among his base according to many polls,” Brodsky told The Foreign Desk.
Abraham Aiyash, the Democratic State Majority Leader in the Michigan House of Representatives, told The New York Times that the attendees emphasized that “beyond communication, there needs to be a change in policies.”
“We were clear that there would be no follow-up meetings in any capacity if there was not a shift in policy based on the tangible steps that we outlined for them today,” he added.
Abbas Alawieh, a former congressional aide to Democrat Representative Cori Bush who participated in the gathering, expressed dismay that it had taken over 100 days since the onset of the war for the administration to connect with residents from Dearborn.
“People feel not just a vague sense of betrayal, but a bone-deep sense of betrayal by President Biden,” Alawieh told The New York Times.
According to Brodsky, much of the policy shift also “has to do with Biden and his team’s inability to think outside of the box, beyond the two-state solution paradigm, and their inability to work toward victory. It has become clear that unlike Israel, Biden does not want to solve the conflict. He wants to manage it. That will lead to far more bloodshed in the future, unfortunately.”
Despite the administration’s latest efforts to rally support in Michigan, various progressive and Arab leaders have vowed not to vote for the President in the upcoming 2024 Presidential election, given his support for Israel. Representative Tlaib’s sister declared an initiative to convince disgruntled Democrats upset with Biden’s position regarding Israel to cast their ballots as “Uncommitted,” opposing the incumbent, during the Democratic primary election scheduled for late February.