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Biden faces protest over support for Israel during closed White House meeting

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has faced protests over the conflict in Gaza all over the country, but this week he confronted one inside the White House itself.

The occasion was a private meeting on Tuesday where Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and national security leaders could hear from Muslim Americans about their concerns involving the war between Israel and Hamas terrorists.

Shortly after the conversation began, a Palestinian American doctor from Chicago named Thaer Ahmad who has volunteered in Gaza announced that he was walking out.

Before leaving, Ahmad presented the president with a letter from an orphaned 8-year-old girl in Rafah, a city that Israel plans to target next. He included a photo.

Ahmad said Biden’s response to his protest was muted.

“He said, ‘I understand,’ ” the doctor recalled.

Biden’s support for Israel’s military operations in Gaza, including the sale of U.S. weapons, has angered Muslim Americans. The war began on Oct. 7 when Hamas terrorists killed 1,200 Israelis in a surprise attack. Since then, roughly 33,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza.

Biden has expressed concern about civilian casualties but has not cut off military assistance for Israel.

“There’s a change in the rhetoric,” Ahmad said. “But concrete actions, we have not seen a significant change.”

This week’s meeting was arranged by the White House instead of the more traditional celebratory dinner to mark the end of Ramadan. Several Muslim community leaders had refused invitations to break their fasts with the president, saying it would have been inappropriate at a time of famine in Gaza.

“We understand how this community is feeling in a deeply painful moment,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Wednesday.

She was circumspect when asked about Tuesday’s meeting, saying the conversation was private. Pressed on Biden’s reaction to Ahmad’s decision to walk out, she said the president “respects their freedom to peacefully protest.”

When Ahmad received the invitation to attend the White House meeting, he was under the impression that the meeting would be Biden’s first opportunity to talk with someone who had been on the ground in Gaza in the six months after the war started.

Jean-Pierre would not confirm whether that was the case.

Before going to the White House, Ahmad decided that he would walk out once the meeting started.

“I’m not going to yell at anybody. I’m not going to throw anything. I’m just going to walk out calmly,” Ahmad said. “And that’s what I did.”

Ahmad is planning another trip to Gaza at the end of the month.

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