Obama Humiliates Muslim Guests at White House Ramadan Event, Endorses Israel’s Gaza Assault and NSA Surveillance
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At the annual White House Iftar dinner commemorating the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, President Barack Obama endorsed Israel’s ongoing assault on the Gaza Strip and defended government spying on Muslim-Americans. Alongside dozens of Muslim-American community activists and Muslim diplomats, the White House welcomed Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, an outspoken advocate of Israel's settlement enterprise who has claimed Muslim and Arab culture is endemically violent.
In the past, the annual Iftar dinner passed without much notice. Last year, President Barack Obama delivered a boilerplate speech to the assembled crowd of Muslim-American community activists and Middle Eastern ambassadors about his efforts to spur entrepreneurship. But this time, amidst a one-sided Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip that was about to claim its 200th death in just a week, and which the US had backed to the hilt, the heat was on.
While Obama prepared his remarks, calls rang out with unprecedented intensity for invitees to boycott the July 14 ceremony. Among those who urged a boycott in protest of the Gaza assault and ongoing government spying on Muslim-Americans was the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), an established presence in Washington representing the country’s largest Arab-American advocacy group.
Joining the boycott call was Mariam Abu-Ali, the sister of Ahmed Abu Ali, a US citizen renditioned to Saudi Arabia for torture before being sentenced to life in prison on dubious charges of threatening to kill George W. Bush. “The White House Iftar is a slap in the face to those in the Muslim community who have been victims of U.S. civil-rights and human-rights abuses,” Abu Ali wrote. “It is an attempt by administration after administration to whitewash the crimes of the U.S. government against Muslims by painting a less-than-accurate picture of their relationship with the American Muslim community.”
As established Muslim-American leaders like Laila Al-Marayati lined up to boycott (Al-Marayati rejected an invitation to the State Department’s Iftar), others defended their presence at the ceremony. Most vocal among them was Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), one of the two Muslim members of Congress. “I disagree with the tactic,” Ellison remarked in a statement released by his office. “It will not close Guantanamo Bay, guarantee a cease-fire between Israel and Palestine or undo the NSA’s targeting of Muslims.”
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) echoed Ellison, insisting that the event would “allow [them] to engage with senior White House officials for a decent amount of time on substantive issues.”
While Muslim-American civil rights groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations have assumed a more confrontational posture towards the White House and boycotted a prayer breakfast with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in protest of his support for NYPD surveillance of Muslims, MPAC has taken an altogether different tack. Its role as a paid consultant on the cable TV series, “Tyrant,” was perhaps the best example of its accommodationist stance.
Produced by Howard Gordon, the creator of “24” and “Homeland,” the show starred a white actor playing a pathological Arab dictator who ruled over the deeply dysfunctional fictional nation of Abuddin. Even mainstream TV critics derided the series as unbearably Orientalist, with the Washington Post’s Hank Stuever describing it as a “stultifyingly acted TV drama stocked with tired and terribly broad notions of Muslim culture in a make-believe nation on the brink.” Leading up to the White House Iftar, a leader of a major Muslim advocacy organization told me on background that MPAC was bleeding support, especially from younger activists.
At the Iftar dinner, Obama launched into a defense of Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip, declaring, “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 against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas.”