President Obama voices support for Israel at White House iftar

An American Muslim organisation has criticised Barack Obama for using a White House iftar on Monday as an opportunity to voice his support for Israel.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council, which attended the event along with many other US Muslim leaders, said it was appalled at the president’s actions.

At the iftar the President said “no country can accept rocket fired indiscriminately at citizens” and “Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas.”

In a statement MPAC said: “As an organization that champions the principle of engagement, MPAC Washington DC Director Haris Tarin and National Policy Analyst Hoda Elshishtawy seized the opportunity to raise pressing policy concerns with President Obama and his senior staff regarding Gaza.

“Tarin and Elshishtawy directly stressed to the President and his senior staff that the disproportionate Israeli military response is a deeply concerning reality for innocent Gazans. They also stressed the need for the US to push for an immediate ceasefire…

“In the past eight days, nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli airstrikes. In his remarks last night, Obama supported Israel’s right to defend itself. Given the growing international outcry calling for an immediate ceasefire and a halt to Israel’s military assault on Gaza, it is appalling that the President continues to give Israel a green light to resume their assault on Palestinians.”

Obama remarks

At the White House iftar President Obama said: “the pictures we are seeing in Gaza and Israel are heart wrenching.  People here in the United States care deeply about what’s happening there, and I know there are strong views, as well as differences, about how we should move forward, which is part of American democracy.  We welcome that debate.  That makes us stronger.

us-israel-flags“Our goal has been and continues to be peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.  And I will say very clearly, no country can accept rocket fired indiscriminately at citizens.  And so, we’ve been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas.  At the same time, on top of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza that we’ve worked long and hard to alleviate, the death and injury of Palestinian civilians is a tragedy, which is why we’ve emphasized the need to protect civilians, regardless of who they are or where they live.

“I believe further escalation benefits no one, least of all the Israeli and the Palestinian people.  So we’re going to continue doing everything we can to facilitate a return to the 2012 cease-fire.  We are encouraged that Egypt has made a proposal to accomplish this goal, which we hope can restore the calm that we’ve been seeking.  More broadly, however, the situation in Gaza reminds us again that the status quo is unsustainable and that the only path to true security is a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, where differences are resolved peacefully and in ways that respect the dignity of all people.”

Boycott call

Before the iftar The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) had urged all Arab and Muslims in the United States to boycott the Obama administration’s celebration of the holy month of Ramadan, arguing the president has condoned the killing of Palestinians in Gaza and the spying on some Americans based on their Muslim identities.

The ADC, the nation’s largest Arab American group, issued a statement saying: “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. 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.”

The custom of celebrating Ramadan in the White House dates back at least to 1996, when then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton hosted a dinner during Eid-al-Fitr, the three-day festival marking the end of Ramadan.

National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan noted in an e-mail Monday that the tradition may go back two centuries, according to accounts from the nation’s early days.

“Some consider President Thomas Jefferson to have hosted the first Iftar by a US president, as he hosted a sunset dinner with an envoy from Tunisia over 200 years ago,” Meehan wrote. “The invited guests tonight include elected officials, members of the diplomatic corps, religious and grassroots leaders in the Muslim American community, and leaders of diverse faiths.”

On Monday night, Obama said the ceremony offered him and others the chance to celebrate the freedom of religion and highlight the achievements of Muslim Americans who had worked to advance and contribute to their communities.

“All of us are deserving of an equal opportunity to thrive – no matter who we are, what we look like, what we believe, or how we pray,” the president said. “And all of us have an obligation to do our part – to help others overcome barriers, to reverse the injustice of inequality and to help more of our fellow citizens share in the promise of America.”

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