Muslim leaders angry over Gaza reject chance to break bread with Biden: ‘We’re just in a different world’

Dr. Thaer Ahmad, an emergency room physician in several South Side hospitals and a MedGlobal board member, works on a patient during a January trip to Gaza. He was one of several doctors sent to the area to help provide medical aid as wounded numbers grow.


WASHINGTON — Last year, President Joe Biden hadn’t even spoken a word at the White House celebration of Ramadan before someone shouted out “we love you.” Hundreds of Muslims were there to mark the end of the holy month that requires fasting from sunrise to sunset.

There are no such joyous scenes during this Ramadan. With many Muslim Americans outraged over Biden’s support for Israel’s siege of Gaza, the White House chose to hold a smaller iftar dinner Tuesday evening. The only attendees were people who work in the administration.

“We’re just in a different world,” said Wa’el Alzayat, who leads Emgage, a Muslim advocacy organization. “It’s completely surreal. And it’s sad.”

Alzayat attended last year’s event, but he declined an invitation to break his fast with Biden this year, saying, “It’s inappropriate to do such a celebration while there’s a famine going on in Gaza.”

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators call for a cease-fire in Gaza during a protest as part of the “People’s White House Ceasefire Now Iftar” outside the White House on Tuesday.

Kent Nishimura/Getty

After rejections from Alzayat and others, he said the White House adjusted its plans Monday, telling community leaders that it wanted to host a meeting focusing on administration policy. Alzayat still said no, believing that one day was not enough time to prepare for an opportunity to sway Biden’s mind on the conflict.

“I don’t think the format will lend itself to a serious policy discussion,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

Among those invited to meet with the president was Dr. Thaer Ahmad, global health director for the department of emergency medicine at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. He has volunteered at Al-Nasser Hospital in Gaza.

The Huffington Post reported Tuesday night that Ahmad walked out of the White House meeting to protest the Biden administration’s handling of the war.

According to the report, Ahmad recounted his experience in Gaza during the meeting, and emphasized the need for more aid. He also told the president the U.S. needed to stop the planned invasion of Rafah, according to the report.

“I was firm, candid and respectful. I hope that my message was received. And I hope my tone of urgency came across,” he added.

Ahmad described some of his experiences while volunteering in Gaza to the Sun-Times earlier this year.

“What I quickly began to realize was that all aspects of life were disrupted; this was not just one humanitarian crisis. It was dozens of public health disasters happening at the same time,” said Ahmad, whose family is from the occupied West Bank, just outside Jerusalem.

The refusal to break bread — or even share a room — with the president is fresh evidence of how fractured the relationship between Biden and the Muslim community has become six months after Israel and Hamas began their current war.

When the Democratic president took office three years ago, many Muslim leaders were eager to turn the page on Donald Trump’s bigotry, including his campaign pledge to implement a ” total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

But now Democrats fear that Biden’s loss of support among Muslims could help clear a path for his Republican predecessor to return to the White House. This year’s election will likely hinge on a handful of battleground states, including Michigan with its significant Muslim population.

“There are real differences between the two,” Alzayat said. “But emotionally, there may be no differences for some folks. And that’s the danger.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said “community leaders expressed the preference” of having a “working group meeting,” which she described as an opportunity to “get feedback from them.”

As far as the private iftar, Jean-Pierre said that “the president is going to continue his tradition of honoring the Muslim community during Ramadan.”

Contributing: Violet Miller

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