In prime-time remarks to the nation Thursday night, President Joe Biden made a point of singling out Wadea Al-Fayoume, the six-year-old Palestinian-American boy viciously stabbed to death in what authorities have charged as a hate crime.
“His name is Wadea,” Biden said. He went on to condemn the attack, said America should not stand for Islamophobia and addressed the Arab and Muslim communities suffering under the weight of hate. He also took a moment to tell Israel “not to be blinded by rage,” as it carries out its retaliation in Gaza.
Immediately afterward, he called the Al-Fayoume’s family, speaking to both his father and uncle. The White House said the president and the first lady expressed their condolences to the family and expressed their commitment to speaking out against anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, and anti-Muslim bigotry.
Hanaan Shahin, Al-Fayoume’s mother, was also stabbed more than a dozen times in the attack and is expected to survive.
Biden’s remarks, and the call, followed direct outreach from the White House earlier this week to the family of the boy, according to his uncle, Mahmood Yosif, who has served as a spokesperson to the family of the slain boy. Yosif told NBC News that the White House talked to a family representative earlier this week to express the president’s condolences.
A White House official said the president expressed his deepest condolences through multiple calls between the administration and family representatives. The official said White House staff also asked if the family consented to the president bringing up Al-Fayoume in public statements.
The family’s landlord, who prosecutors say targeted the boy and his mother because of their Muslim faith, was charged in the slaying.
On Thursday, before the president’s speech, Yosif said the family appreciated outreach from the White House. But he said he remained frustrated with the president overall because he said Biden was giving more attention to the matter overseas and not enough to what’s happening domestically, particularly with hate crimes against Muslims.
“I want our president to come out and say, ‘You are number one, I work for the people of this country,'” Yosif said.
Biden’s personal address to Muslims and Arab-Americans comes as he has faced seething frustration from the Muslim and Arab communities in the U.S., over what they called an uneven response since atrocities in Israel.
The frustrations are also bubbling up within the White House and inside Biden’s own campaign, as the president grapples with diplomatic relations in the wake of the worst terrorist attacks in Israel in decades, followed by airstrikes in Gaza that have taken a devastating humanitarian toll on Palestinians.
After word came of Al-Fayoume’s murder, Biden immediately released a statement, saying that “this horrific act of hate has no place in America, and stands against our fundamental values: freedom from fear for how we pray, what we believe, and who we are.”
“As Americans, we must come together and reject Islamophobia and all forms of bigotry and hatred,” the president continued. “I have said repeatedly that I will not be silent in the face of hate. We must be unequivocal. There is no place in America for hate against anyone.”
Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Chicago, told NBC News that in recent weeks, he’s been inundated with complaints of hate crimes against members of the Muslim community, particularly women who are wearing the traditional hijab.
There’s also frustration over aid to the Middle East, with billions going to Israel compared to the $100 million going toward humanitarian efforts in Gaza. Biden had said if the terror group Hamas did not release the money to its people, he would cut off future funding.
The White House sent an official, Dilawar Syed, to Al-Fayoume’s funeral, but he was booed when he started to make remarks. Syed is the highest-ranking Muslim official in the Biden administration, serving as deputy administration of the Small Business Administration. He brought with him a letter of condolences from the president to the family, according to a White House official.
Yosif said the boos came from “Americans and everyone there” — not just by Muslims — and were asked to leave if they did not stop.
There have also been issues within Biden world with the appearance that the president hasn’t done enough for Muslims.
Staffers at both the White House and campaign have also received inquiries from communities of color, as well as Muslim groups, asking why the president has done more. Some of the internal discussions have included questions of why Biden hasn’t visited a mosque. They have noted that then-President George W. Bush visited a mosque less than a week after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to a person familiar with the discussions.