President Joe Biden plans to hold a quiet, dramatically downsized iftar gathering Tuesday night after invitations were declined by several Muslim American community leaders, according to two sources familiar with the planning.

First Biden will also host a small meeting with Muslim community members on Tuesday to “discuss issues of importance to the community,” according to a White House official. The discussion, which will take place behind closed doors, will be joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as senior administration officials and senior members of the president’s national security team, the official said.

Afterward, Biden and Harris will host a small iftar meal with some senior Muslim administration officials — a scaled-back version compared to past years. During Ramadan, which began on March 10 and ends April 9, Muslims traditionally fast from sunrise and sunset and gather to break their fast with an iftar meal in the evening.

The tensions come amid deepening tensions with the Muslim American and Arab American communities over the administration’s support for Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.  

NPR was first to report on the scaled-back events.

Some people who were invited to attend the White House events on Tuesday flatly declined, according to the sources familiar with the planning, who said the invitees did not feel comfortable celebrating with the president while many Palestinians are currently facing starvation and malnutrition. 

Emgage, a Muslim-American advocacy group, said in a statement that it had received an invitation to attend the White House meeting but declined.

“At Emgage, we embrace the power of engagement. However, in these holiest of days of Ramadan, Emgage stands with our community who have loudly voiced their discontent with the President’s policy on Gaza,” the statement said, noting the community’s “deep pain” over the U.S. continues to supply military aid to Israel amid its brutal war with Hamas.

Over 30,000 people in Gaza have been killed since Hamas attacked Israel, killing over 1,200 people and taking hundreds more hostage.

The downsized event marks a significant departure from past Ramadan receptions. In previous years, Biden has hosted hundreds of people for a public reception to mark Ramadan and Eid. In contrast, the two smaller Ramadan events are not on his public schedule and he won’t deliver remarks on camera. 

In 2023, for instance, Biden held a large gathering in the East Room with prominent Muslim lawmakers and delivered remarks. 

“Muslims have been part of the United States from the very start. Muslims fought along[side] the patriots during the War for Independence,” Biden said to a group of roughly 350 people. “Today, there are 3.5 million of you in the United States. You come from different ethnicities, races, speak different languages, but you’re united all as Americans.

Near the end of Biden’s speech, an audience member shouted “first Muslim to City Council in Boston,” adding: “We love you!” 

The administration chose not to plan a larger reception because of a lack of confidence that invited guests would want to attend, the two sources familiar with Tuesday’s events said. 

In 2022, Biden specifically touted how proud he was to restore Eid celebrations at the White House after Donald Trump had scrapped them during his time as president. 

Mike Pence at an Iftar dinner
Mike Pence at an Iftar dinner in 2019 in Washington.Win McNamee / Getty Images file

“We have to acknowledge that an awful lot of work remains to be done, abroad and here at home. Muslims make our nation stronger every single day, even as they still face real challenges and threats in our society, including targeted violence and Islamophobia,” Biden said to a packed crowd. 

In May 2021, while the pandemic was still raging, the White House held a virtual Eid celebration during a major outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas. At the time, some Muslim groups called for a boycott of the White House event but the virtual ceremony went on as planned. 

White House officials have traveled outside of Washington to meet with Muslim American community leaders in Detroit and Chicago in recent months but were not welcomed by some who were invited to participate. The Biden campaign has also tried to engage with key Arab American voters in swing states like Michigan, where more than 100,000 people chose “uncommitted” on their primary ballots in February.

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