Biden's iftar event met with boycott, counter-protest outside White House

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators call for a ceasefire in Gaza during a protest as part of the "People's White House Ceasefire Now Iftar" outside the White House on April 2, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Photo/AFP)

The White House has held a scaled-down iftar dinner to celebrate Islam's holy month of Ramadan, after many invitees turned the president down over frustrations in the Muslim community over his policy toward the Israel's brutal war on Gaza.

Several Muslim leaders were expected to attend Tuesday's meeting with US President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Muslim government officials and national security leaders. The White House did not name them. Some people who had attended events in previous years, such as Mayor Abdullah Hammoud of Dearborn, Michigan, were not invited.

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

Thaer Ahmad was among those invited to the White House for a scaled-back meeting.

"It was disappointing that I was the only Palestinian in attendance, and out of respect for my community who is mourning and suffering," Ahmad told HuffPost. "I told the president that I’m going to leave. He told me he understood why I needed to leave."

Last year, Biden hadn't even spoken a word at the White House celebration of Ramadan before someone shouted out "we love you." Hundreds of Muslims were there to mark the end of the holy month that requires fasting from sunrise to sunset.

There were no such joyous scenes during this Ramadan. With many Muslim Americans outraged over Biden's support for Israel’s siege of Gaza, the White House chose to hold a smaller iftar dinner on Tuesday evening. The only attendees were the people who work for his administration.

"We're just in a different world," said Wa'el Alzayat, who leads Emgage, a Muslim advocacy organisation. "It's completely surreal. And it's sad."

Alzayat attended last year's event, but he declined an invitation to break his fast with Biden this year, saying, "It’s inappropriate to do such a celebration while there's a famine going on 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.

Fractured ties and counter-iftar

The refusal to break bread — or even share a room — with the president is fresh evidence of how fractured the relationship between Biden and the Muslim community has become six months after Israel began its current war on Gaza.

When the Democratic president took office three years ago, many Muslim leaders were eager to turn the page on Donald Trump's bigotry, including his campaign pledge to implement a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."

But now Democrats fear that Biden's loss of support among Muslims could help clear a path for his Republican predecessor to return to the White House. This year's election will likely hinge on a handful of battleground states, including Michigan with its significant Muslim population.

Mohamad Habehh, the director of development at American Muslims for Palestine, told Al Jazeera that Biden cannot claim to care for the Muslim Americans "if he does not end his backing of Israel."

“These photo-ops that they’re doing — these discussions that they’re doing to somehow show they still have the Muslim community’s support — are just pathetic attempts to make themselves look good at a time where their true colours have been seen," Habehh told Al Jazeera.

Outside the White House, activists prepared their own iftar on Tuesday evening in Lafayette Park. Organisers distributed dates, a traditional food for Ramadan, so people can break their fasts at sundown.

The Biden administration has continued to approve weapon sales to Israel even as the Israeli indiscriminately kills Palestinians and aid workers in besieged Gaza.

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 ceasefire, 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," Awad said. "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."


Source: TRT