Aides to presidential candidate Joe Biden have apologized for their attack on Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour and promised that a Biden administration would be “genuinely inclusive” towards Muslims. However, the admission came during a private call that Sarsour was not a part of.
Last week, Sarsour briefly spoke at a virtual Democratic National Committee (DNC) panel on engaging Muslim voters. The appearance was quickly seized on by Republicans, who denounced Biden for associating with her. Sarsour, who is Muslim and a supporter of the BDS movement, has been consistently smeared by the right as an antisemite.
Biden’s team quickly released a statement distancing the candidate from Sarsour. Campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates told CNN, “Joe Biden has been a strong supporter of Israel and a vehement opponent of anti-Semitism his entire life, and he obviously condemns her views and opposes BDS, as does the Democratic platform.”
“She has no role in the Biden campaign whatsoever,” Bates went on to declare.
Now Middle East Eye’s Ali Harb has reported that in a private call with activists, Biden aides apologized for Bates’s statement. “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,” said national coalitions director Ashley Allison.
“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..my apologies for what we did and what happened,” said foreign policy adviser Tony Blinken.
Adviser Symone Sanders asserted that Biden does not view criticism of Israel as antisemitic, despite opposing the BDS movement.
It’s striking that the apology was not intended to be public and that it was not directed at Sarsour. In fact, Sanders would later tell CNN’s Jake Tapper that “we continue to reject the views that Linda Sarsour has expressed.”
In May, the Biden campaign released a policy paper in which he promised to “firmly reject the BDS movement, which singles out Israel – home to millions of Jews – and too often veers into anti-Semitism, while letting Palestinians off the hook for their choices.” After this statement sparked a backlash from activists, the campaign reworked the language, taking out the reference to “choices” but maintaining the opposition to BDS.
Last month, the DNC’s platform committee voted down an amendment that would have acknowledged the occupation of Palestine and called for conditioning military aid to Israel. The failed amendment was actually a watered-down version of a document that had been developed by Palestinian-American delegates. The earlier version called for an end to the occupation, an end to settlement expansion, and equal rights for Palestinians and Israeli Jews.
After that document, and the subsequent amendment, were rejected, DNC delegate Zeina Ashrawi Hutchison told Mondoweiss, “If the goal was party unity, they’ve failed and managed to alienate the majority. Human rights are non-negotiable and the Palestinian people’s right to freedom and self-determination will overcome Israeli apartheid and oppression.”
A number of activists and progressives voices have expressed their solidarity with Sarsour in the wake of these developments. “I am humbled by all of your support & want you to know how much it means to my community,” she tweeted last week. “For young Muslims to see how so many step up to defend me, Ilhan [Omar], Rashida [Tlaib] when we are being targeted for who we are & what we believe – you give them hope & a sense of belonging. Thank you.”