Top aides to presidential candidate Joe Biden have apologised to Arab and Muslim Democrats over an attack on Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour by the campaign, in an effort to quell anger over the controversy.
In a private call with dozens of prominent activists on Sunday, Ashley Allison, national coalitions director for the Biden campaign, said she was “sorry” for the comments that a campaign spokesman made against Sarsour.
‘I am sorry that that happened. And I hope that whatever trust was broken, that this conversation is one small step to help build back the trust’
– Ashley Allison, Biden campaign
Top foreign policy adviser Tony Blinken also expressed “regret” over the incident during the virtual meeting.
Anger erupted after a Biden campaign spokesman had condemned Sarsour and suggested that she was antisemitic over her criticism of Israel.
Allison said she empathised with “the pain” that the campaign had caused to Arabs and Muslims by disavowing Sarsour.
“I am sorry that that happened. And I hope that whatever trust was broken, that this conversation is one small step to help build back the trust, but that is not the last time we have this conversation,” Allison told the activists.
Sunday’s call was off-the-record, but Middle East Eye obtained a recording of it.
Sarsour, a well-liked figure in progressive Arab and Muslim circles, has been a target of rightwing attacks over her support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
On Tuesday, she made a brief appearance on a panel as part of the Democratic National Convention, where she discussed voter engagement in the Muslim community.
Donald Trump’s campaign was quick to condemn her appearance, saying that Biden endorsed “her bigotry” against the Jewish people.
Biden’s campaign responded by denouncing and distancing itself from the Palestinian-American organiser.
“Joe Biden has been a strong supporter of Israel and a vehement opponent of antisemitism his entire life, and he obviously condemns her views and opposes BDS, as does the Democratic platform,” campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement late on Tuesday.
“She has no role in the Biden campaign whatsoever.”
The comment drew the ire of numerous Arab and Muslim activists and groups, including many that had pledged support for Biden. Prominent organisations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Arab American Institute (AAI), the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and Emgage, urged the campaign to retract the statement.
Progressives also came to Sarsour’s defence. MoveOn, an influential leftwing group, called the Muslim activist a “leader in the fight for justice for all of us”.
“Biden can support Israel without implying that critique of Israeli gov’t policy is antisemitic or condemning advocates for Palestinian rights,” MoveOn said on Twitter earlier this week.
“Moving forward, it is critical for the Biden campaign to prioritize building a big tent that respects, represents, and welcomes progressives and Muslim and Arab Americans, even where policy disagreements exist.”
Blinken acknowledged the “hurt and disappointment” that the comments against Sarsour caused.
“Historically, Republicans and Democrats have been quick to dismiss Muslim, Arab-American and especially Palestinian-American voices, and I want to reiterate on behalf of all of us our support for your communities,” Blinken told the activists on Sunday.
He pledged that the Biden campaign and future administration will be “genuinely inclusive” and ensure Arab and Muslim representation at the decision-making level.
So… now Biden thinks there are “fine people” that are anti-Semitic Israel-haters? Inclusion of Muslim voices does not have to include those who support terrorism. But, as we have seen, DEMOCRATS now endorse and employ terrorism to try to intimidate votes. It is repulsive that the Biden campaign worries so much about losing the anti-Semite vote.