Why Biden’s White House iftar unravelled amid Gaza war | Israel War on Gaza News

Washington, DC – The White House has cancelled a Ramadan iftar meal after several Muslim Americans declined the invitation in protest of President Joe Biden’s support for Israel’s war on Gaza, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The sources, who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, said the cancellation on Tuesday came after Muslim community members warned leaders against attending the White House meal.

Edward Ahmed Mitchell, the deputy director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), also said the event was nixed because so many people chose not to attend, including invitees who had initially agreed to go.

“The American Muslim community said very early on that it would be completely unacceptable for us to break bread with the very same White House that is enabling the Israeli government to starve and slaughter the Palestinian people in Gaza,” Mitchell told Al Jazeera.

Both CNN and NPR had reported on Monday that the White House was preparing a small community iftar.

But hours later, on Tuesday, the White House announced instead that it would be hosting a meal for Muslim government staffers only and holding a separate meeting with a few Muslim American community figures.

The cancelled iftar underscores Biden’s struggle to stem growing anger in US Arab and Muslim communities over his unconditional support for Israel.

Critics warn the outrage could translate into peril for Biden at the ballot box during November’s presidential election.

‘We listened,’ White House says

Over the past two decades, US presidents have hosted iftars with dozens of prominent Muslim Americans. Mirroring other religious and cultural events at the White House, Ramadan meals have served as a celebration of the Muslim community and are traditionally open to the press.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed that Biden and his Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with Muslim “community leaders” on Tuesday.

Asked why the “community leaders” will not attend the iftar, Jean-Pierre said that they requested a meeting instead of a meal.

“They wanted to make sure that there was an opportunity to discuss the issues at hand,” she told reporters.

“They thought it would be important to do that. And so, we listened, we heard, and we adjusted the format to be responsive.”

Several Muslim American activists said the meeting will be another futile “photo-op”, arguing that the Muslim community has made its position known over the past six months.

“No matter how many meetings we have, no matter how many people have gone in, no matter how many conversations are being held, the White House has refused to change,” said Mohamad Habehh, the director of development at American Muslims for Palestine.

Habehh stressed that Biden cannot claim to care for the Muslim American community 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.

The Biden administration has held several off-the-record meetings with some Arabs and Muslims across the country since the start of the war in Gaza.

‘Selected by the White House’

A key issue with such talks, activists say, is that the administration has been handpicking whom to meet with.

A Muslim advocate close to the administration presented a list of credible Palestinian American leaders to invite for a meeting at the White House last year, but the government rejected the suggested individuals, one source told Al Jazeera.

Emgage, a Muslim political advocacy group that endorsed Biden in 2020, said it received an invitation to the meeting but declined to attend, citing the US’s unconditional support for Israel and the mounting death toll in Gaza.

“In this moment of tremendous pain and suffering, we have asked the White House to postpone this gathering and to convene a proper policy meeting with representatives of the community’s choosing, rather than those selected by the White House,” Emgage CEO Wa’el Alzayat said in a statement.

Emgage outlined a list of demands for Biden, including an “immediate and permanent” ceasefire, the resumption of funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and a “legitimate political track” for a Palestinian state.

“Emgage is ready to support efforts that engage in a substantive manner on the above priorities. However, without more Palestinian voices and policy experts in the room, we do not believe today’s meeting will provide for such an opportunity,” Alzayat said.

Hebah Kassem, a Palestinian American political strategist, echoed that concern.

“The administration is strategically selecting who should be at the table, and they’re picking people who likely won’t be critical of their actions and policies,” Kassem told Al Jazeera.

“Why are we allowing them to choose who represents us? These meetings haven’t led to any change. If anything, Biden has doubled down his support for Israel and increased the supply of weapons to Israel.”

US support for Israel

The Biden administration has ruled out conditioning or stopping the flow of weapons to Israel despite mounting Israeli atrocities.

The Israeli offensive has killed close to 33,000 Palestinians, destroyed large parts of Gaza and pushed the territory to the verge of famine.

While the Biden administration has occasionally expressed concern about the actions of the Israeli government, it has regularly asserted its commitment to the alliance with Israel.

On Tuesday, for example, the White House expressed outrage over the Israeli attack that killed seven World Central Kitchen humanitarian workers.

Still, White House National Security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that the US will not hold a “sort of condition over their [Israel’s] neck”.

“We’re still going to make sure that they can defend themselves,” he said.

Abed Ayoub, the executive director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), said Biden’s unwavering support for Israel shows that meetings with administration officials over Gaza have not worked.

“You’ve got to measure the effectiveness of these meetings through results and actions by the administration,” he told Al Jazeera. “The administration knows where we stand; they don’t need to hear it again.”

But Salima Suswell, the leader of the Black Muslim Leadership Council, said it is important for Biden to hear the perspective of Muslim Americans directly. She is attending Tuesday’s meeting at the White House.

“The President needs to understand that Black Muslims and Black Americans are devastated by the ongoing tragedy in Gaza, the loss of so many lives, and the Administration’s support of the onslaught,” Suswell told Al Jazeera in an email.

“The President has an election coming up, and Black voters and Muslims will be pivotal. I want to make clear to him what is at stake should he not take action.”

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