American-Arab group boycotts White House iftar, citing Israeli strikes, NSA snooping

McClatchy Washington BureauJuly 14, 2014 

The White House in Washington, D.C.

TISH WELLS — McClatchy

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee is boycotting government iftars, including tonight’s White House event hosted by President Obama, citing what it says is “the government’s condoning of the current slaughter of Palestinians in Palestine and the spying of American Arabs and Muslims domestically.”

More than 160 Palestinians have reportedly died in Israel’s offensive against the militant Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, but the committee said the “deplorable situation, brought on by Israel’s U.S.-sanctioned illegal occupation of Palestine, has received no direct action from President Obama.”

Obama is hosting the traditional breaking of the fast in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan tonight in the State Dining Room at the White House. The White House late Monday said the Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan would be the sixth Obama has hosted, continuing a tradition of hosting Iftars and Ramadan Eid celebrations that began with President Clinton and was continued by President George W. Bush.

Invited guests were to include elected officials, religious and grassroots leaders in the Muslim American community, leaders of diverse faiths, and members of the diplomatic corps.

The White House said Bassir Caravan, an Afghan-American student at Hofstra University, would be seated next to Obama. He wrote to Obama in 2013 about his family’s story, the White House said, "from his parents’ early hardships upon immigrating to the United States to realizing their own American Dream and raising five children in New York.

Bassir wrote: “It is this great country that has accepted me and my family as its own and counted us as equals so that we may freely pursue our dearest passions and dreams.”

But the group calling for the boycott said that "as this humanitarian crisis continues abroad, we do not believe it is appropriate to attend iftar dinners sponsored by government agencies while lives are being lost,” the committee said in a statement, noting that the event also comes as recent revelations showed that the National Security Agency has spied on some Arab and Muslim community leaders and organizations.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration has expressed concerns about casualties “that have been sustained on both sides” and is encouraging “both sides to exhibit as much restraint as possible.”

But, he added, “we do that with the full knowledge that it is completely unacceptable for rockets to continue to be fired from Palestinian territory aimed squarely at Israeli civilians.”

He said the White House has called on Hamas to end the rocket fire and “will continue to encourage Israelis at the same time, while respecting their right to defend their country and their civilians, we urge them to exhibit some concern for the lives of civilians as well.”

Earnest said the White House iftar “is to observe a religious tradition that Muslims all around the globe are observing” and is an opportunity for Obama and senior staff “to pay tribute to the important role that Muslim Americans play in American communities all across the country.”

As for the boycott, he said the administration respects “the differences that some people may have on these matters, but we would not want that to overshadow the efforts of the president and other senior administration officials to pay tribute to the contribution that so many American Muslims play in their communities.”

In terms of reports of NSA monitoring, Earnest said “I would point out that unlike some other countries, the United States of America doesn't target individuals based on their race or ethnicity or religion. That is a principle to which we scrupulously adhere. And that hasn't changed.”


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