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White House hosts muted Ramadan event as Biden’s Israel policy draws anger

demonstration in support of palestinians, in new york city
File photo: Protestors, calling for ceasefire in Gaza, attend a demonstration near Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan

The White House held 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 met with Muslim leaders before having 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.

One of the attendees, Dr. Thaer Ahmad, an emergency room doctor who spent at least three weeks in Gaza, told CNN that he walked out of Tuesday’s meeting before it ended.

“Out of respect for my community, out of respect for all of the people who have suffered and who have been killed in the process, I needed to walk out of the meeting,” Ahmad said.

Ahmad, who said he was the only Palestinian-American in the meeting, said “there wasn’t a lot of response” from Biden.

“He actually said he understood, and I walked away,” Ahmad told CNN.

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 included Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who is Palestinian American. They are now among the biggest critics of Biden’s 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 U.S. foreign aid, and the U.S. vetoed multiple votes at the United Nations calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza assault that began after Palestinian Islamist group Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7. The U.S. 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 Hamas-governed 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 held a protest iftar in Lafayette Park near the White House. They distributed dates and water bottles to break the fast at sunset.

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