White House iftar scaled down after invited guests shun Biden event

Administration has faced criticism from Muslim and Arab communities over Middle East policies

President Joe Biden at an Eid Al Fitr celebration at the White House. Sources say it is unlikely a similar event will be held this year. AP
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US President Joe Biden will host a scaled-down iftar at the White House on Tuesday, sources said, after several prospective guests shunned invitations in protest against the administration's handling of the Israel-Gaza war.

Five or six people are expected to attend the “working iftar” on Tuesday, a source told The National. Several people turned down invitations to the event.

Another source said the event would be attended by Vice President Kamala Harris, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and some Muslim staff members.

The Muslim and Arab communities in the US have grown angry over the Biden administration's refusal to support a permanent ceasefire in Gaza or to put conditions on military aid to Israel.

Muslim and Arab Americans are part of Mr Biden's coalition as he seeks a second term in office. But some say they feel betrayed by a president who campaigned on promises to increase the visibility of minority groups in the US and promote peace in the Middle East.

More than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war, Gaza health authorities say. But the US continues to supply Israel with weapons without any conditions or efforts to monitor their use.

Despite US calls for more aid to enter the besieged Gaza Strip, starvation, malnutrition and disease are taking hold.

In recent months, those critical of Mr Biden's policies have expressed doubts about whether engaging with the administration will bring about a change in policy.

“These meetings don't really have any meaning, other than symbolism,” a third source said. “I don't think they're going to change anybody's mind by going.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to confirm whether the event was taking place. The Gaza Palestinian American Association put out a statement condemning the event.

“We believe that by participating in this event, Arab and Muslim leaders risk sending a message of tacit endorsement of the administration's policies towards Palestine,” Reem Al Dahdah, a representative for the group, said in a statement.

Last week, the US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, shared an image on social media showing her with guests after an iftar she hosted. Some users accused her and the US of worsening the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

In Michigan, a state with a sizeable Arab and Muslim population, more than 100,000 voters cast "uncommitted" ballots in the Democratic primary election, to protest against the Biden administration's handling of the conflict.

Communities in other states, including Illinois and Wisconsin, launched similar protest vote campaigns.

For much of the past two decades, the White House has hosted yearly iftars, attended by Muslim community leaders, elected officials and staff members.

Former president Donald Trump interrupted that tradition in 2017, after he issued executive orders barring the entry of citizens from several Muslim-majority countries.

Last year, the Biden administration held a large Eid Al Fitr celebration at the White House to mark the end of Ramadan. The event included musicians who played Arabic songs.

Sources said they doubted a similar event would be held this year.

Updated: April 02, 2024, 5:45 AM