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US: Muslim leaders refuse to attend Biden’s Ramadan dinner amid anger over support to Israel in Gaza


Biden, Muslim Americans, Israel Hamas war, Ramadan dinner
Image Source : AP US President Joe Biden

Washington: In another hurdle for US President Joe Biden, several Muslim Americans have rejected the invitation to attend an iftar dinner organised on Tuesday (local time) by the White House, amid rising anger towards his staunch support to Israel in the ongoing war against Hamas in Gaza, where nearly 33,000 Palestinians have been killed and most of the coastal enclave has been flattened. The only attendees will be the people who work for his administration.

This is in stark contrast to last year’s Ramadan celebration at the White House, where hundreds of Muslims were there to mark the end of the holy month that requires fasting from sunrise to sunset. One of the Muslim leaders who declined this year’s invite is Wa’el Alzayat, who leads Emgage, a Muslim advocacy organisation. “We’re just in a different world, It’s completely surreal. And it’s sad,” he said, stressing that the celebration is inappropriate while there is a famine in Gaza.

‘Inappropriate to celebrate during famine in Gaza’

After rejections from Alzayat and others, he said the White House adjusted its plans on Monday, telling community leaders that it wanted to host a meeting focusing on administration policy. Alzayat still said no, believing that one day was not enough time to prepare for an opportunity to sway Biden’s mind on the conflict. Additionally, Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American–Islamic Relations, said he encouraged other Muslim leaders to decline invitations to the White House if they received them.

The message, he said, should be “unless he calls for a cease-fire, there will be no meeting with him or his representatives”. “I believe that the president is the only person in the world who can stop this. He can pick up the phone and literally tell Benjamin Netanyahu, no more weapons, just stop it, and Benjamin Netanyahu will have no choice but to do so,” he said.

The boycotting of Biden’s invitation is a callback of a trip that White House officials took to Detroit, Michigan earlier this year. They faced an icy reception from Muslim American community leaders in the swing state, where more than 100,000 Democratic primary voters cast protest votes for “uncommitted” as part of an organized showing of disapproval for Biden’s approach to the war.

Anger festers over Biden’s support for Israel

The refusal to break bread — or even share a room — with the US President is fresh evidence of how fractured the relationship between Biden and the Muslim community has become six months after Israel and Hamas began their current war. Biden has garnered intense criticism for staunchly supporting Israel in the course of the devastating war in Gaza, providing military supplies and shielding the Jewish country from UN resolutions calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Many experts noted that while the US abstained from the first resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council on March 25 calling for an immediate ceasefire, it has done nothing to enforce the resolution despite the Biden administration itself warning of an imminent famine and humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Biden has also urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to prevent civilian casualties and focus on precise targets.

When the Democratic president took office three years ago, many Muslim leaders were eager to turn the page on Donald Trump’s apparent ‘bigotry’, including his campaign pledge to implement a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US”. However, Democrats now fear that Biden’s loss of support among Muslims would pave the way for the Republican frontrunner to return to the presidency in the upcoming elections.

“There are real differences between the two (Biden and Trump). But emotionally, there may be no differences for some folks. And that’s the danger… It’s not good enough to tell people Donald Trump is going to be worse,” added Alzayat. White House Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said “community leaders expressed the preference” of having a “working group meeting,” which she described as an opportunity to “get feedback from them.”

Biden’s growing frustration with Israel

As far as the private iftar, Jean-Pierre said that “the president is going to continue his tradition of honouring the Muslim community during Ramadan”. No journalists will be allowed to capture either the iftar or private meeting, a change from previous years. Neither was listed on the president’s public schedule. Outside the White House, activists prepared their own iftar on Tuesday evening in Lafayette Park.

Despite growing frustrations between Biden and Netanyahu, the former’s administration has continued to approve weapon sales to Israel even as the president urges Israeli leaders to be more careful about civilian deaths and encourages them to allow more humanitarian assistance into Gaza.

On Tuesday, Biden once again criticised Israel over its military operation in Gaza. The latest statement by Biden comes following the deadly strike that killed seven aid workers, including one American, in war-torn Gaza. The President said Israel “has not done enough” to protect civilians. Three British nationals, an Australian, a Polish national, an American-Canadian dual citizen and a Palestinian were among the dead in the Israeli airstrike.

“Even more tragically, this is not a stand-alone incident. This conflict has been one of the worst in recent memory in terms of how many aid workers have been killed. This is a major reason why distributing humanitarian aid in Gaza has been so difficult – because Israel has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians,” Biden said.

This came after Netanyahu abruptly scrapped a visit to Washington this week by a senior delegation to discuss Israel’s threatened offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah after the US abstained in a Security Council vote that demanded an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and the release of all hostages held by the Palestinian militants.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | Biden slams Israel after death of 7 aid workers in Gaza strike, says ‘not enough done to protect civilians’


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