on Wednesday 3 April, 2024

White House hosts scaled-down Ramadan event as anger over Israel policy continues

Demonstrators gather in front of the White House during a rally in support of Palestinians in Washington, DC, on November 4, 2023. (File photo: AFP)
by : Reuters

The White House will hold a scaled-down iftar dinner on Tuesday to celebrate Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, after some invitees turned the president down over frustrations in the Muslim community over his policy toward the Israel-Gaza war.

President Joe Biden will meet with Muslim leaders, then have a small dinner with senior Muslim officials in his administration, first lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband.

“President Biden will host a meeting with Muslim community leaders to discuss issues of importance to the community,” the White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday, explaining these leaders would rather have a meeting than a dinner.

The White House “adjusted the format to be responsive,” she said.

The event is a sharp contrast to last May, when Biden hosted a reception for Eid to mark the end of Ramadan. Dozens of attendees cheered Biden at the White House as he told the crowd: “It’s your house.”

Muslim members of Congress who attended that event including Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who is Palestinian American, are now among the biggest critics of his Gaza policy.

Emgage Action, a Muslim American advocacy group, said it declined an invitation to Tuesday’s dinner, citing Biden’s “continued unconditional military aid to Israel,” which they say has led to a “humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions.”

Many Muslims, Arabs and anti-war activists have been angry with the administration’s support for Israel and its military offensive in Gaza that has killed tens of thousands and caused a starvation crisis in the narrow coastal enclave of about 2.3 million people.

Israel is the leading recipient of US foreign aid, and the US vetoed multiple votes at the United Nations calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza assault that began after Palestinian militia group Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7. The US abstained from a vote in late March.

Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies. Israel’s subsequent military assault on Gaza has killed over 32,000 people, according to the local health ministry, displaced nearly all its population and led to genocide allegations that Israel denies.

Muslim and anti-war groups plan a protest iftar in Lafayette Park near the White House. They said they will distribute dates and water bottles to break the fast at sunset.