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White House announces national strategy to combat Islamophobia

The White House announced Wednesday the administration will develop a National Strategy to Counter Islamophobia in the United States.

“President Biden ran for office to restore the soul of our nation. He is unequivocal: There is no place for hate in America against anyone. Period,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in statement.

The strategy, a joint effort led by the Domestic Policy Council and the National Security Council, aims to create a comprehensive and detailed plan to protect Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim “because of their race, national origin, ancestry, or any other reason, from discrimination, hate, bigotry, and violence,” said a White House official. The White House will be partnering with local communities on coming up with the strategy.

“For too long, Muslims in America, and those perceived to be Muslim, such as Arabs and Sikhs, have endured a disproportionate number of hate-fueled attacks and other discriminatory incidents,” Jean-Pierre said. “Moving forward, the President, Vice President, and our entire Administration will continue working to ensure every American has the freedom to live their lives in safety and without fear for how they pray, what they believe, and who they are.”

The initiative comes as Israel’s war with Hamas – which has seen a rising number of civilian deaths in Gaza –- has increased fears of Islamophobia in the United States, and some of the nation’s largest Muslim American groups have denounced Biden’s approach to the conflict.

The president on Wednesday traveled to Minnesota – which has a sizable and growing Muslim population – and promised to continue to press Israel to adhere to international laws protecting civilians in conflict and to push for increased aid to Gaza. But Biden’s standing has taken a deep hit among Muslim Americans in recent weeks with polls having shown a drop-off in support as anger swells over his handling of the Mideast crisis.

Last week, a small group of Muslim American leaders had a private meeting with the president and called on Biden to show more empathy toward Palestinian lives after he cast doubt on civilian death figures in Gaza, two attendees told CNN.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a key Muslim American ally of Biden who attended the meeting, reiterated the call Wednesday after hearing the president speak, telling CNN that forceful remarks from Biden on protecting civilians could “reduce the likelihood” of Israeli strikes like the one that destroyed part of the Jabalya refugee camp.

The president expressed support for a humanitarian pause to allow for the release of hostages in Gaza Wednesday evening, in response to a protester calling for a ceasefire during a closed-door fundraiser.

“I understand the emotion,” Biden said, while still stopping short of endorsing a ceasefire. “This is incredibly complicated for the Israelis. It’s incredibly complicated for the Muslim world as well.”

New graf: Some groups, many of whom led door-to-door voting campaigns for Biden in 2020, have warned that the president’s approach could become a political liability as he seeks reelection. Earlier Wednesday, local Muslim leaders announced an effort to get Muslim American voters to withhold their support for Biden’s 2024 bid after he failed to endorse a ceasefire.

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to reflect that local Muslim leaders are working in their personal capacity to withhold support from the president’s reelection bid.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Betsy Klein, Kevin Liptak and Khalil Abdallah contributed to this report.

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