Amid wide calls for boycotting the annual event, US President Barack Obama has hosted a White House iftar to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan, using the meal to discuss the crises unfolding in the Mideast.
“Even as we celebrate all that we have in common, we know that in too many corners of the world, we see violence and terror, and those who would destroy rather than build,” he said, the CNN reported on Tuesday, July 15.
Obama’s comments came as he presided over an annual Iftar dinner at the White House in celebration of the holy month of Ramadan.
In remarks to dinner guests, who included diplomats from the Arab and Muslim world, Obama said the US goal continued to be peace and security for Israelis as well as Palestinians
“Now I will say very clearly, no country can accept rockets fired indiscriminately at citizens. And so we’ve been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself about what I consider inexcusable attacks from Hamas,” he said.
He added: “The death and injury of Palestinians civilians is a tragedy, which is why we’ve emphasized the need to protect civilians regardless of who they are and where they live.”
He said Americans “care deeply about what is happening there, and I know there are strong views as well as differences about how we should move forward.
“Our goal has been and continues to be peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.”
Obama also restated his administration’s policy on Syria, telling those gathered that, “the Assad regime continues its brutality against the Syrian people and so we continue to help Syrians stand up to [President Bashar al-] Assad and deal with the humanitarian crisis and push back against extremists.”
On Iraq, Obama said, “We continue to call for a new government that can unite Iraqis and show all communities in Iraq that they can advance their aspirations through the political process.”
The White House iftar is a tradition that began annually under President Clinton and was continued by President George W. Bush.
This is the sixth iftar to be hosted by President Obama since he came to power in 2008.
The iftar was held amid wide boycott calls from Arab Americans and Muslim leaders who argued that Obama has condoned the killing of Palestinians in Gaza and the spying on some Americans based on their Muslim identities.
“We ask that all government iftar invitees stand together on behalf the community and reject the normalization of the continuous breach of our fundamental rights,” a statement by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) was quoted by The Washington Post on Monday.
“Political engagement is important and having a seat at the table is crucial — but only when that seat is intended to amplify our voice as a community, not tokenize or subdue it.”
Ramah Kudaimi, a D.C.-based activist who helped organize the protest against the White House Iftar, has also expressed concerns over US policy regarding Gaza and NSA spying on American Muslim leaders.
“The White House coming out and endorsing wholeheartedly Israel’s assault, saying Israel has a right to defend itself, is very shameful when Palestinian children are being killed,” he said in an interview with The Huffington Post.
Kudaimi added that the protest is about a wide range of issues, including Guantanamo, the Obama administration’s drone policy and surveillance that disproportionately targets Muslims.
“The last straw was the NSA spying scandal and the fact that those being spied on ranged from officials with [the Council on American-Islamic Relations], as well as Americans whom you would describe as ‘patriotic,’ and who have served their government and been proud of it,” Kudaimi said.
“And yet that does not mean that they have escaped government surveillance. … I think this whole mixture of things got to a point of making the boycott calls louder and louder.”
Muslims across the country have expressed similar grievances on social media over the last week, using the hashtag #WhiteHouseIftar.
A petition to boycott the event was also widely circulated on Monday and signed by more than 100 people.
“We are a group of scholars, advocates, activists and grassroots organizers who are outraged and deeply concerned by the violence that the United States has committed under the guise of national security,” the petition reads.
“We are outraged that human and civil rights of Muslims and non-Muslims alike are so callously rejected in favor of a national security state that purports to be a democracy and the leader of the free world, while furthering undemocratic policies and ideals. We are outraged that so many individuals have suffered from profiling, detention, torture, and murder by virtue of specifically being Muslim or looking Muslim.” ONISLAM